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How-To Guide

How to Safely Field Dress Your Game

 Posted on: August 25th, 2021

How to Safely Field Dress Your Game

Field dressing, also known as gralloching, involves removing the internal organs of hunted game to preserve the meat. It’s usually done right where the deer dropped, because it’s a time sensitive process that must be done as soon as possible to ensure rapid body heat loss and to prevent bacteria from growing on the surface of the carcass. This not only helps maintain the quality of the meat, it also makes the carcass lighter to remove from the hunting area.

Why is field dressing important?

Once the animal is no longer breathing, it’s body cannot protect it against natural bacterial growth from the inside or outside. Bacteria multiple rapidly in temperatures above 40 degrees F, sometimes doubling in under 20 minutes, and making sure that bacterial growth is slowed is your top priority. Two factors come into play: getting the body cool as quickly as possible will slow that bacterial growth, and cleaning the carcass by removing entrails and wiping away excess blood and moisture will reduce the number of organisms until you’re ready to process and cook the meat.

Bring field dressing equipment with you on the hunt

Much like in a professional kitchen setting, preparation, the right tools, and good hygiene (or as good as it can be) will go a long way when it comes time to field dress your buck or doe. Here are some of the essentials:

  • Sharp knife
  • Small axe or hatchet
  • Rope or nylon cord
  • Clean cloth or paper towels
  • Resealable plastic storage bags
  • A large cooler full of ice/snow
  • Ground pepper and cheesecloth
  • Disposable plastic gloves
  • Clean water
Some of the right tools to use
Having the right gear or hand will reduce the risk of contamination

Recognizing disease in your harvested deer

Your state’s gaming commission should be informed if you kill a deer who is infected or dying, particularly as chronic wasting disease is a known concern in many deer populations. By reporting a compromised deer, you help the gaming commission and the CSC maintain current numbers on how many deer are afflicated in a given area. This information provides a important pulse-check on the health and vitality of our country's ecology every year.

As you start to field dress your deer, keep your eyes and nose alert for any sign of disease. This might look like unusual greenish discharge, really foul-smelling organs, black blood or blood clots. Any of these signs of abnormality are a warning sign that the meat should not be consumed.

Even if you do suspect that your deer is infected, finish the dressing process then deliver the entire carcass (minus entrails but including head and hide) to a game commission officer. They will determine if the deer is unfit for consummation, and if so, they will issue a written authorization for the hunter to harvest another deer in the remainder of that hunting season to compensate for the loss of meat.

Field dressing steps

  1. Locate the body of the deer. This might require some tracking, especially if you stayed in your blind for an extended period of time after shooting
  2. Remove the entrails to facilitate cooling the body. Lifting the carcass up with a field-dressing stand like the High Tail Field Dressing Tool helps with accessing the underbelly. Use small holes and angle your clean knife to avoid puncturing internal organs or bowels as this will keep bacteria at bay
  3. Drain excess blood from the body cavity. Wipe it dry with clean cloth or paper towels, or rinse with clean water then wipe dry in a similar fashion. Removing the scent glands is optional; research has found they do not impact the flavor of the meat if left on the carcass
  4. Cool down the carcass as rapidly as possible. If you need to transport it through the woods to your hunting site or vehicle, clean Ziploc bags of ice or snow in the chest cavity can help if the outdoor temperature is at or above 40 degrees. Game carts can help you transport your deer much more rapidly than hauling it over terrain. Cheesecloth keeps flies off the meat and prevents them from getting in there and laying eggs, and black pepper is another resource that will repel insects. Keep dirt and debris out of the chest cavity if you have to drag the carcass back to camp. If you’re already at your destination, find a shady area, hang or suspend the deer if possible using a deer hoist or tree (6-8 feet of rope should suffice for most deer), prop carcass open with a clean stick to allow air to circulate, skin the carcass as soon as possible to help it cool and prepare it for processing (if you’re processing it yourself). For smaller game, once field dressed place them in a cooler if the weather is warm, as long as they remain dry
  5. Dispose of entrails properly so that animals can’t drag them off and eat them
  6. Use latex gloves to help protect you from wildlife diseases. Utilizing tools like a deer splitter can also keep your hands away from the cavity.

Once safely dressed, it’s time to transport your harvested deer from the woods to your vehicle, then on to the butchering location. Keeping the carcass clean and cool during transport is just as important during this step! Game carts are a great option as they will keep the deer above the ground and prevent it from keeping up debris.

Disclaimer: This educational article contains general information only; Discount Ramps cannot be held liable for damage, illness, injuries or accidents that occur after reading this article.