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Fastest Way: 4 Steps to Field-Dress a Deer

Make these four easy cuts to complete the deer field-dressing process in minutes.

Fastest Way: 4 Steps to Field-Dress a Deer
Speed shouldn’t be your focus when using a knife, but gutting a deer isn’t complex. Follow this simple four-step process, and you’ll have it field-dressed in no time. (Lynn Burkhead photo)

Cut 1

With the deer on its back, lift its rump and slide something beneath its hindquarters to expose anal and/or vaginal openings. Using a sharp, “pointy” knife with a 4- to 6-inch blade, puncture the skin an inch to one side of the anus. Push the knife straight in to its hilt. Keeping it level and pointed straight ahead, cut a coring hole around the anus. If you shot a doe, include the vaginal opening in the cut.

Make one more knife pass around the pelvic canal’s interior to cut all connective tissue between the colon and pelvic canal. Don’t sever the colon. With one hand, tug lightly where the anus connects to it. Reach inside the pelvic canal with your index finger and tear any remaining connective tissue so the colon slides freely. Leave it and proceed.

Cut a coring hole around the outside of the anus and sever all connective tissues around the colon. (Illustration by Kevin Hand)

Cut 2

Retrieve your knife and straddle the deer at its sternum, facing its rear. (Some hunters prefer to make this cut from the pelvis to sternum, but I recommend working from the sternum to the pelvis, as you can straddle the ribcage to keep the carcass fairly immobile.) Find the sternum bone’s flat surface and cut about a 5-inch slit through the hide atop the sternum. Point the knife toward the deer’s rear and hold it so the blade’s edge faces upward. With your free hand, form a “V” with your index and middle fingers and slide them safely beneath and behind the blade on each side.

Press your two guide fingers inside the cut on the sternum, push lightly into the abdomen and lift the hide from inside. With your two guide fingers leading the way, and being careful not to cut into the stomach and intestines below, use the blade’s tip to slice the hide from the sternum to the deer’s pelvis. Don’t cut into the pelvis; there’s no need to cut or saw through the pelvic bone. At this point, you can also remove a buck’s penis and scrotum, or a doe’s udders.

Cut 2: Use two fingers to guide your knife as you open the abdomen, being careful not to puncture the intestines and stomach below. (Illustration by Kevin Hand)

Cut 3

Pull the cavity open and locate the diaphragm. This is a taut membrane separating the chest cavity (lungs and heart) from the liver, stomach and intestines. Carefully cut the diaphragm away from both sides of the body cavity to the spine below.

Cut 3: Cut the diaphragm away from the body cavity’s interior walls. (Illustration by Kevin Hand)

Cut 4

Using your free hand, reach far inside the chest cavity to the neck and find the esophagus (windpipe), which feels like the ribbed tube on an elk call or vacuum cleaner. Using extreme care, reach up inside with your knife and cut through the esophagus above where you’re holding it with your other hand.

While keeping one hand firmly around the esophagus, withdraw your knife and lay it on the ground. Now reach back inside, grip the esophagus with both hands and pull firmly. Everything inside the deer—stem to stern—will pull free of the deer’s interior. You’ll need to pull hard at times to tear some connective tissue, but more cuts shouldn’t be needed.

Watch the innards as you pull them from the abdomen. If the bladder is full, guide it gently with one hand as it slides out with the rest of the entrails. If you properly cored the anus and colon, they’ll pull into the abdomen and slide out with everything else.

Flip the deer belly down and splay its legs to drain pooled blood from the body cavity. While it drains, clean and stow your gear for the pack-out.

Cut 4: Sever the esophagus and pull all of the innards from the abdomen. (Illustration by Kevin Hand)

Follow these steps, and gutting the deer will be your easiest task of the day.

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