DIY Deer Field Dressing Equipment and Tips
Don't make field dressing a deer any messier than it has to be; make sure you have all the essentials before you go out this season
Having the right field dressing tools will help this crucial task go faster and smoother. Not to mention provide you with safe, clean venison to eat.
Extended cuff or elbow-length gloves are must-have items to include in your deer hunting kit. Wearing gloves will keep your hands clean and protect you from potential bacteria and diseases that can enter your blood stream through cuts and scratches on your hands and arms.
Gloves will also make the job of field dressing a gut shot animal less daunting. To reduce the risk of cross contamination, use disposal gloves. For the environmentally conscientious hunter, bring two sets of reusable gloves. One for gutting and the other for butchering. Sanitize them thoroughly before each use.
Form fitting, latex or latex-like gloves provide the best control and grip.
To field dress, skin and quarter a deer, you only need two good knives: a heavier one for cutting through skin, hair, cartilage, and joints, and a more flexible, sharp knife for carving out meat. My husband and I love this combination: the Buck 110 Folding Hunter Knife and the Havalon Piranta-Edge.
We use the Buck knife to release a deer’s rectum, to open up its body cavity, to cut through the windpipe, to skin the deer and to cut through joints.
Whereas the Havalon’s replaceable blade is as sharp as a surgical knife. It’s ideal for more delicate work, such as carving out the loins, tenderloins, and releasing the front shoulders on a deer. I also use the Havalon to carve meat around the rump and pelvis area before going in with the Buck knife to release the hindquarters at their hip ball joints, which are composed of cartilage. If you tried doing this with the Havalon, the blade would break.
Remember to clean and sharpen your knives before you leave home. Also sanitize knives after field dressing/gutting and before you move onto skinning and butchering.
Small Bone Saw
A small bone saw, preferably a foldable one, is necessary for cutting through a deer’s sternum to reach its windpipe, and for splitting its pelvis to cleanly remove the rectum.
Some hunters skip the step of splitting the pelvis, which can hold the rectum by residual tissues. The decision is largely personal preference, trial and error. If you plan to hang your deer for a few days, however, you need to make sure that the rectum comes out as cleanly as possible. Pulling on the rectum before it was completely released from the anus and/or pelvis bone may cause tearing and cross contamination. Traces of feces will taint and spoil meat.
See Butt Out notes in “Others” section.
In a perfect world, a deer will pass in front of your crosshairs earlier in the day, allowing you to take your time. But so often—at least for my husband— you may shoot deer at the last moment, right before sunset. Field dressing a deer in the dark has it challenges, so make sure you keep a headlamp with you at all times. They are small, portable and provide a hands-free light source.
My favorite brands are Black Diamond and Petzl. These headlamps were originally designed for backpackers, mountaineers, rock climbers and ice climbers, featuring long battery life and dependable, powerful light. I’ve had my Black Diamond headlamp for at least a decade, and it’s still going strong. Aside from hunting, it’s in my pack for any adventure.
Paper Towels and Clean Rags
Keep paper towels and/or clean rags in your pack or vehicle. You never know when you need to clean up a mess. Blood, dirt, gut shot accidents—anything can happen.
Also remember to pack out what you pack in. Stuff a small trash or grocery bag in your pack, pocket or vehicle. Keep our public lands clean. Private landowners also appreciate the courtesy.
Rope and Sled
Hopefully you won’t have to drag your deer far. But if you do, you’ll need deer drag harness, rope and possibly a sled if there’s snow on the ground. The harness will help distribute weight equally across your body, as opposed to using a plain rope. With snow on the ground, a sled will easily glide across slippery surfaces.
Ice Chest and Ice
Keep the meat cool and dry at all times. If transporting the deer whole (gutted), keep its body cavity propped open with a stick to help any residual body heat escape. If it’s a hot day, place a bag of ice in the chest cavity. And if necessary, cover the deer with a light-colored tarp or sheet to keep it out of the sun.
Skip the bar and the parade around town. Transport the deer to your nearest check-in station and home as soon as possible.
Other Items to Consider
Bandages – In case you nick yourself. It happens to the best of us.
Gut Hook – We don’t use a gut hook, but many hunters like them. There are several types available. Some pocket knives are made with a gut hook attached at the spine, while other gut hooks are standalone or part of a multitool. You’ll have to experiment to see which one works best for you, if at all.
Butt Out – Hunters have raved about this little tool, which can make the most annoying task of gutting a deer a cinch. We have used the Butt Out on several occasions and it works as promised. There’s no need to split a deer’s pelvis with this tool.
Kitchen Twine – If you choose to detach a deer’s anus by the traditional route, use kitchen twine to tie off the rectum before you pull out the innards. The string will prevent feces from falling out while you continue to field dress the deer.
Hand Sanitizer – The gel kind is best. In a pinch, I use it to clean my knives.
Game Bags/Clean Trash Bags – If regulations allow, you may want to pack out your deer quartered. Use game bags or clean trash bags to keep the meat away from dirt and insects.