Field Dressing Your Deer

I scoured YouTube in years past to find videos about field dressing.  It’s one of those things you just have to see – a list of instructions doesn’t cut it.  But it wasn’t until I was browsing the Kansas Dept of Wildlife site that I found this gem.

The instructor walks through a very simple method of field dressing that can be done without someone else’s help, with minimal tools, and a minimal amount of opening the animal up.  Some people like to really open them up to cool them off, but I think that can be overkill.  If you use this technique immediately after your shot, your deer is going to cool down with time to spare, and your meat will stay cleaner and juicier as a result.

As you can see, he’s able to completely field dress this deer with only a sharp knife and a zip tie.  Last year I was lucky enough to bring home three deer, and I processed the last two this way with good results.

The only part that might be tough for beginners is reaching into the chest cavity and cutting the windpipe sight unseen. Once you’ve seen (and more importantly felt) a windpipe, it’s very distinctive and you won’t have trouble finding it again.  But if you’re new, I recommend using a short, hand-sized bone saw to cut straight up through the  sternum right before the step where you cut the windpipe.  You’ll be able to spread the ribs slightly and see exactly what you’re doing.  One caveat: do NOT cut the sternum if you plan on having the head mounted.

Now that I can field dress with just a knife, a skill I wanted to master, I don’t have any problems making life easier on myself in the field 🙂 That’s why I bought this field dressing set from Bass Pro Shops:

While I haven’t had a chance to field test this set yet, I’m already impressed.  For $30, you get the bone saw I mentioned above, which only requires one hand and has a blunt tip to avoid over-reaching and shredding organs. The next knife is a skinner, which I could honestly take or leave. I already have knives for this, but a beginner might not. To its credit, it’s razor sharp right out of the package. Finally, you have the gut hook.  While some knives have this built into the back of the blade, you just can’t beat a dedicated tool. This uses standard, replaceable exacto knife blades, and comes with a couple extras that fit right into the tool’s pouch.  I appreciated that extra touch, and it’s one more reason Gerber’s knives have really impressed me.

All three tools are super light, I was surprised. But they feel very solid, and each comes with its own pouch so you can take or leave whichever tools you want for the job.  As the Marines say, ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain. There’s no point in carrying extra stuff you know you won’t need, on a full-day miles-long hike through the Sandhills.

Finally, whatever tools you choose, go with FIXED BLADE cutlery whenever possible.  Avoid the 3-in-1 folding kits with a hook, blade, and saw that swivel out. Cleaning all the blood and guts out of them after just one deer is a pain in the ass. And my Walmart Special crapped out after just 3 deer.

You would be better served with a single NON-SERRATED fixed blade that rinses of cleanly and can be easily resharpened for a lifetime of hunts. You can get a decent one for around $10, or the sky’s the limit.  My personal favorite all-around hunting knife is $40 at Bass Pro:

It’s big enough for deer, but unlike its 12-Point big brother, it’s not unwieldy when you’re elbow-deep in deer innards. It’s also great for smaller game.  I’ve used mine to field dress rabbits.  The fixed blade means easy cleaning. The non-serrated blade makes it easy for me to sharpen with just a stone and/or sharpening stick. And I opted NOT to have the gut hook, because I prefer either a dedicated tool or just use the front blade.  This knife is simple, sharp, and tough.

My only regret is that they don’t make their camo-orange version in a fixed blade. If you drop this in the field, you can be staring right at it and still have trouble finding it.

Good luck!

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