Field Dressing – No Bones About It
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, December 17, 2011.)
I’ve never taken a deer to a butcher until this year when I took one to Jim Seder on the Big Four Road not far from my home. I took it to him partly because I didn’t have time to do it myself, partly because the weather was too warm to hang it in my garage, and partly because of what Jim told me a few weeks before the rifle season.
I don’t mean to insult anyone,
but the odds are you don’t know
how to field dress a deer.
I had run into Jim at Wendy’s Café in Russell, PA, and he said, “Stop by and I’ll show you how NOT to field dress a deer? I’d say 90 per cent of hunters don’t know.” He wasn’t kidding or exaggerating.
At first, I didn’t believe it. 90 per cent? Really? I wouldn’t have believed 50 per cent, because when I grew up my dad taught me. It was fundamental to learning how to hunt.
When I stopped by Jim’s shop I saw what he was talking about. In fairness, some examples might be the work of new hunters who were trying to figure out for the first time what to do. But 90 per cent of the deer aren’t brought in by new hunters. So, I don’t mean to insult anyone, and it was surprising to me, but the odds are you don’t know how to field dress a deer.
Maybe you don’t want to bloody-up your hands and sleeves, or you’re a little squeamish. Maybe you didn’t pay attention in biology class and don’t understand the anatomy of the animal, or you don’t have a sharp knife. (My knife, the Havalon knife, takes that excuse away because it uses replaceable surgical scalpel blades.) Whatever the reason, the vast majority of hunters who turn their deer over to a venison processor apparently don’t know their way around a deer’s innards.
During the half hour I hung around Seder’s shop I saw almost every field dressing mistake hunters can make. Here they are in two categories:
Category #1 – Not doing enough:
1. This is the one I didn’t see, but once in a while a hunter will leave all the guts in. Every butcher has seen this, and most butchers refuse to take a deer that hasn’t been field dressed.
2. Some hunters remove only the abdominal organs (stomach, intestines, liver, kidneys). That leaves everything in front of the diaphragm (heart and lungs), and everything in the pelvis.
3. Some also remove the heart and lungs, but leave everything in the pelvis – the sex organs, the rectum, and the bladder. Do you want the contaminants associated with those organs near the hams of your deer? I don’t.
Category #2 – Doing too much:
1. Some hunters tear out the tenderloins, the small muscles inside the abdomen, on either side of the spine. I’ve heard them called “the fish” – they’re about the size and shape of an ordinary trout. Don’t rip them out with the gutpile – they’re the tenderest and best meat on the deer.
2. Some hunters cut the pelvic bone – what old-timers called the “aitch” bone – with a saw or hatchet. It’s totally unnecessary despite what you read in magazines, and despite what’s included in the fancy field dressing knife set you might find under the Christmas tree. Could it help cool the meat faster? Not really. Plenty of air will get in there to cool the meat if you properly remove the rectum, bladder and sex organs.
3. Some hunters go even further, severing the hip sockets on the hind quarters. Do that and you’ll lose up to 20 per cent of your hams because you’re exposing the meat to bacteria and drying. On the front end, there’s no reason to cut the breastbone either. That will dull your knife and risk an accident. You never need to cut a bone while field dressing.
Make four easy cuts -- no bones about it!
All you need are four cuts, all in soft tissue, all with a knife, and none with a saw or hatchet. You simply pull everything out after you make these easy cuts:
1. Around the vent and sex organs.
2. Belly, from the vent to the breastbone.
3. Diaphragm – left and right sides.
4. Gullet – esophagus and windpipe.
Always remember that proper field dressing leads to great tasting venison. If you want step-by-step instructions, I've written about that at the Havalon website. Check it out at: How To Field Dress Deer Like a Pro.