Well-cared for deer make fine table fare for many people. It is important to properly handle deer immediately after the shot. How quickly the animal is field dressed and the meat property cooled determines the quality of the meat. However, far too many deer are wasted or make poor quality eating because hunters do not follow the simple, common sense rules of good meat handling after the kill. These directions will help put good meat on your table.
Before the hunt, check to see that you have all the equipment needed for hunting and handling your animal after the kill. Important items include a sharp knife for dressing, a light rope or nylon cord for dragging, a cloth to clean your hands, and a plastic bag for the liver and heart.
AFTER THE KILL
Approach a downed animal with caution, and be sure it is dead. If your shot did not hit a vital region or if the animal is still struggling, kill it with a shot in the neck just under the ear.
Admittedly, the field dressing chore is not the most enjoyable part of the hunt, but the extra time spent taking care of the meat will pay dividends at the table. Field dressing takes effort, so your heavy hunting coat should be removed and your sleeves rolled up so they wont be soiled. Disposable vinyl or latex gloves lessen the chances of passing infectious diseases and make hand cleaning easier.
Blood and digestive juices from organs possibly penetrated by the shot must be removed from the body cavity quickly, and the sooner the organs, which deteriorate rapidly, are removed, the faster the meat will cool. Field dressing also eliminates dragging unnecessary weight when moving the animal.
Before starting the field-dressing process, keep in mind that it is important to keep dirt and foreign objects away from the exposed body cavity. Removing the scent glands is not considered necessary, but is done with care by many hunters. Some archery hunters save the glands for use as scent while hunting. Removing the glands carelessly can taint the meat.
Roll the carcass over on its back with the rump lower than the shoulders and spread the hind legs. Make a cut along the centerline of belly from breastbone to base of tail. First cut through the hide, then through belly muscle. Avoid cutting into the paunch and intestines by holding them away from the knife with the free hand while guiding the knife with the other.
Unless the head will be mounted, the cut should pass through the sternum and extend up the neck to the chin to allow removal of as much of the windpipe as possible. The windpipe sours rapidly and is a leading cause of tainted meat.
With a small sharp knife, cut around the anus and draw it into the body cavity, so lt comes free with the complete intestines. In doing this, avoid cutting or breaking the bladder. Loosen and roll out the stomach and intestines. Save liver. Split the pelvic or "aitch" bone to hasten cooling.
Cut around the edge of the diaphragm which separates the chest and stomach cavities, and split the breastbone. Then, reach forward to cut the windpipe and gullet ahead of the lungs. This should allow you to pull the lungs and heart from the chest cavity. Save heart. Drain excess blood from the body cavity by turning the body belly down or hanging animal head down. Prop the body cavity open with a stick to allow better air circulation and faster cooling.
A clean cloth may be useful to clean your hands. If you puncture the entrails with a bullet or your knife, wipe the body cavity as clean as possible or flush with water and dry with a cloth. Don't use water to wash out the body cavity unless the paunch or intestines are badly shot up.
Part of the satisfaction of the hunt comes with making a clean kill and in doing a neat job of field dressing your animal. Veteran hunters may have variations in the steps of field dressing. The important points are to remove the internal organs immediately after the kill without contaminating the body cavity with dirt, hair, or contents of the digestive tract and to drain all excess blood from the body cavity.
All parts damaged by gunshot should be trimmed away. If the weather is warm of if the animal is to be left in the field for a day or more, it may be skinned, except for the head, and washed clean of dirt and hair. It should be placed in a shroud sack or wrapped with porous cloth to cool (cheesecloth is ideal). The cloth covering should be porous enough to allow air circulation but firmly woven enough to give good protection from insects and dirt. Lacking porous cloth, hunters often coat the inside of the body cavity with black pepper to repel insects. Adequate cooling may take six hours or more, depending on weather conditions.