A shot rang out in the distance, followed shortly by another. Then all was quiet. Hunting alone, I knew it was no one in my hunting party, and as the morning had been slow and was now getting long, I decided to traipse over and see what the excitement was about.

Topping a small rise, I glimpsed a patch of orange in the distance and paused to peruse through binoculars before approaching closer. Through the glass, I could see the still figure of a man standing over what certainly looked like a deer. “Looks like he got it,” I thought, and proceeded in his direction.

Sure enough, he’d bagged a fat, healthy fork-horn buck and the excitement was clearly visible on his face. “He walked right up to me,” the stranger began. “I was afraid he’d see me shaking. My first shot was a little off, but he just stood there and I got him with the second.” I congratulated the hunter, who proudly boasted that after several unsuccessful seasons, he’d finally bagged his first deer. “Make sure you tag it,” I advised, which he did with shaky hands. That done, he stood back looking proudly at his prize.

Soon the look changed to puzzlement. “Now what?” he asked. The question took me by surprise for a moment before I realized what he meant. He’d worked out all the angles to bag his first buck, but having accomplished that goal, he had no idea what to do with it. I tried at first to talk him through the field dressing process but quickly realized if either of us were going to make it out of the woods any time soon, I’d have to take matters into my own hands. “Would you like me to show you?” After an enthusiastic affirmative, I began demonstrating proper field dressing.

It’s not an uncommon occurrence, but if you’re going to the woods in pursuit of a deer, it behooves you to know what to do if and when your hunt reaches its logical conclusion. And if you don’t know, don’t be too proud to ask. The faint of heart may choose to stop reading here, but for the rest of you, I offer some basic guidelines for field dressing a deer.

The overall goal is to take the insides out. I usually start by ringing the vent, cutting all the connective tissue around the “tail pipe” until it is free. Next comes the most important, and often challenging part. You have to cut the hide and underlying muscle of the belly, from crotch to breast bone, without puncturing the paunch. With the deer lying on its back, make a small incision just below the breast bone, at the base of the ribs. Insert two fingers, then pulling up on the skin and muscle, carefully guide your knife along, cutting upward and away from the internal organs. Take your time and remember to lift the hide and muscle as you cut.


If you did it right, you should now be able to roll the deer on its side, letting the entrails spill out. Reach in and down, grabbing the lower intestine and pull. If your first cut was done properly, you should be able to pull out the vent entirely. If not, go back and cut a little more.

Next, cut the diaphragm, a wall of muscle separating the stomach and chest cavities, again being careful not to cut the paunch. Now reach as far up inside the chest cavity as you can, grasp the esophagus and windpipe with one hand, and carefully cut through both with the knife in your other hand. Pull, and the whole mess should come out in one mass. Roll the deer over onto its belly to drain any excess blood, and you’re done.

It becomes easier with practice, but until you become more proficient, just go slowly, being careful not to cut the guts or yourself. There are some finer points, like how to deal with sex organs and udders, but you’ll figure that out as you go. The most important thing is to get the internal organs and blood out quickly to prevent spoilage and cool the carcass. Then, prop the body cavity open with a stick for better air circulation. Be careful dragging so you don’t get dirt on the meat. Then it’s time for processing, which we’ll save for another day.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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