Each year the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency receives many requests for information to aid first time deer hunters in preparing their harvest to best preserve the venison . TWRA’s Region 3 Wildlife Deer Biologist, Ben Layton, suggests the following techniques for field dressing white-tailed deer:
Technique For Deer Not Going to Taxidermist
1. Lay deer on back. If possible, have head and front quarters of deer elevated above the rest of the deer. Elevating the deer in this way will cause blood and other material to move into the pelvic region of the deer which will make removing lungs, heart, etc., less messy.
2. Make a cut on the sternum (breastbone) of the deer just above the white belly hair. Continue this cut up to the end of the sternum cutting through the hair to the bone.
3. Starting at the white belly hair at end of the sternum, insert a small knife with the cutting part of the blade pointing up and the knife pointing to the rear of the deer. Make cut through the hide and skin. Extend cut along centerline of deer from sternum to the pelvis. Use fingers of the non-cutting hand to prevent knife blade from cutting into paunch (intestines, stomach, etc.). Knife blade should not extend more than 1" past hide into the abdominal cavity to prevent cutting paunch.
4. After cutting through hide and exposing the paunch, take knife and cut the skin on both sides of the mammary glands (in a lactating doe) or around the genitals on a buck. On a lactating (with milk) doe, you can discard this gland after both cuts have been made. On a buck you will have to additionally make a cut through the urinary tract in order to discard the genitals.
5. Take knife and cut through the meat separating the two rear hams. This cut will start where your abdominal (white belly) cut ended. Make cut down to the pelvic bone.
6. Take bone saw and cut through pelvic bone. Be sure not to cut or puncture the bladder while making this cut.
7. After making the cut with the saw grasp a rear leg in each hand and push down to separate the pelvic bone even farther. (Inserting a rock or log under the pelvis of 1the deer will aid in making this break but this step in not entirely necessary in most cases). Separating the pelvic bone in this manner will give you more room to make the next cut.
8. Grab intestine about three inches from anus and pull up on intestine. With intestine raised, cut tissue around the intestine and around the anus. This cut will free intestine and anus.
9. Next take bone saw and cut along side of sternum going from the first rib toward the neck of the deer. Stop this cut at the end of the last rib.
10. Take knife and cut through diaphragm (tissue separating chest cavity from abdominal cavity).
11. With knife reach up through the chest cavity and cut crossways through windpipe and major artery. Also, cut tissue that suspends heart from sternum. Grab windpipe and pull outward toward the rear of the deer. All organs in the chest cavity will come out attached together with this pull.
12. Continue pulling toward the diaphragm. Once at the diaphragm you may need to make an additional cut on one side or the other of the diaphragm to be able to continue to pull the chest organ out. Try to make this cut while still holding the windpipe and/or chest organs.
13. Once free from the diaphragm continue to pull out organs. The rest of organs and intestines should come out with minimal cutting to free them from the backbone.
14. Discard guts and if possible wash out body cavity with water. Use water only if air temperature is less than 65 degrees. If temperature is above 65 degrees do not use water since water will promote bacterial growth in warm weather.
15. Turn deer over so that water, if used, and blood will drain out of cavity.
16. In warm weather, (over 65 degrees) add ice in bags to body cavity to promote cooling especially if it will be several hours before deer can be skinned and processed. Also, in warm weather you can put deer in a cheese cloth bag to prevent flies from getting to deer.
Technique For Deer Going To Taxidermist
The technique for field dressing a deer that is going to be mounted by a taxidermist is the same as listed above, with the exception that no cuts should be made in the hide starting from above the end of the sternum to the head of the deer. The abdominal cut made to remove the paunch should be made only in the white belly hair. Making the abdominal cut only from the sternum to the anus and no higher will allow a taxidermist to have enough hide to make a deer shoulder mount.
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