You have just downed a great deer, and you want to make sure you have plenty of meat in the freezer. Making sure that your meat is going to be of the best quality starts with properly field dressing the deer. If you follow these steps, you will make sure that the meat will be great, and you will enjoy it throughout the coming winter.
Some people believe that the tarsal glands (especially on a buck) should be cut off. If you want to do this, do it first, and then make sure that you clean your knife. The tarsal glands are found on the inside of the rear legs, at about the joint (knee). Simply pull the tuft of hair out, and cut along the bone to remove the gland. Personally, I see no benefit to doing this. Leaving the gland intact does not in any way taint the meat.
Next, begin your incision into the abdominal cavity with a cut in the belly region. On a buck, begin immediately in front of the genitals, and a on a doe start in front of the udder. Gently pull up on the abdominal muscle and begin cutting through the skin, and the abdominal muscle. Be very careful not to cut through the stomach or intestines. Cut up to the sternum of the deer. If you have a good sharp knife, you can cut along one side of the sternum to open the chest up a bit more. This will give you more room to work in a few moments.
Cut backward, cutting off the genitals of a buck, or the udder of the doe. Again, you want to be very careful not to penetrate the intestines or stomach. You also want to be very careful not to puncture the bladder when working toward the back of the abdominal cavity.
Using the point of the knife, cut around the anal opening. You can feel the soft tissue by moving carefully. Try not to cut through the anus itself, as that will get fecal matter on your knife. If this happens, make sure to clean your knife blade before moving on. If you are working on a doe, you will be cutting around both the anus and the vagina.
Return to the abdominal cavity. Cut the diaphragm, which separates the abdominal cavity into two compartments (between the intestines/stomach and the heart/lungs). Cut down both sides of the rib cage to separate this diaphragm. Make sure to cut all the way to the spine so that the guts can be completely removed.
Carefully slide one hand up past the heart/lungs into the deer’s throat. Grasp the esophagus firmly. Using the other hand, slide your knife up into the throat area and cut the esophagus. Be very careful not to cut your fingers. Grasp the now severed esophagus and pull forcefully.
If you have done everything correctly, you should be able to eviscerate the animal without much trouble. If any part seems to still be “attached”, you can use your knife to cut away the offending part.
Make sure to drain all the remaining blood from the chest cavity. This can be done by turning the animal over and spreading the rear legs. This will allow all the remaining blood before starting to move the animal. You do want to be careful not to get dirt, and leaves in the chest cavity.
As soon as possible, hang the deer so that it can begin to cool out properly. If possible spread the rib cage with a stick, or with a rib spreader. Cooling the meat properly is very important to ensuring that the meat will taste good, and not have a “gamey” taste. It is possible to hang deer for several days to age, if the temperature is not above 40 degrees. Between 40 and 50 degrees, you can put some ice in the chest cavity and allow the carcass to cool and age. If the temperature is above 50 degrees, you will need to butcher immediately, and get the cuts of meat refrigerated to make sure they are of the best quality and do not spoil.
If you care for your deer in this way, immediately following the kill, it will start you off toward having great table fare. If you don’t eviscerate the deer quickly, the meat will begin to be tainted. You have to make sure the carcass cools quickly.
Don’t be intimidated by wild game. Properly cared for, there will be no gamey flavor to the meat. Many have eaten venison at our table without ever knowing it. Don not ruin meat by elaborate methods often used to keep it from tasting funny, like soaking in salt water, or onion water. These methods add funny tastes to meet, they don’t help alleviate it!