You need a break after you and your web designer agencies have finished building a website for a Californian wildlife volunteering program that you joined some months ago. Since you also recently obtained a resident hunting license and hunting equipment, you decided to go to one of California’s wildlife spots to hunt deer, which is either permitted in certain areas or it is now deer season.
You plan to bag only one deer, bring it home and have the venison all to yourself, perhaps because you like the meat or you want to save money from buying more protein for now. Before you can do this, do you know how you should field dress a mammal in the first place?
If you don’t, it is best if you learn about the process, otherwise you will make a mess and contaminate the meat. You will also waste precious time figuring out and fumbling around your prize because you have no idea where to start or the next part to cut.
This field dressing process is not limited to deer. You can also do the same to other mammals including boar, bear and sheep. Most of the steps here are based on the SAS Survival Handbook by John Lofty Wiseman, a very good read if you are into wilderness survival.
The key to a smooth field dressing is a really sharp knife. Sharpen your knife before and occasionally during the field dressing. Wear gloves too to protect your hand from being potentially contaminated. A hatchet may work too, but a knife is better in terms of precision.
This skinning method can be done whether the deer is hung in your backyard or garage, or laid on the ground. Either way, skinning is usually the first step hunters take when harvesting game, though some gut them first.
It is recommended to skin your deer while it is still warm from the hunt, rendering the process easier to do. Plus when skinning, take care that you do not pierce your knife too deep that it reaches the meat or organs. If it ruptures the latter, your meat can be contaminated.
Take your time when skinning, as rushing will only leave you vulnerable to botching your job. As slow as it may take you to finish skinning, it will be rewarding when you manage to keep the meat and organs intact. It will also be a victory to you if you plan to use the hide.
Begin by making a ring cut around the rear legs just above the knee, then cut around the forelegs of the same area. Next, cut down the inside of the rear legs until both lines are close to the crotch. There, you must cut round the genitals and remove them since they can also taint your meat.
Now make an horizontal, abdominal cut all the way to the neck of the deer. To avoid piercing the gut, put two fingers in the slit of the skin prior to doing this, then work your way down as your fingers lift it up while your knife does the work between your fingers. Make sure that the blade faces outwards.
When you have done cutting down the abdomen to the neck, start from the center of the body and, like the rear legs, cut the inside of the forelegs and a ring cut for each of them.
Now you can start peeling away the skin from the flesh. Use your knife as little as possible, only cutting away if your hands cannot manage to peel away as best as they can. Roll the skin outwards from the forelegs, then work your way down. Cut around the tail when the hide reaches there.
The rest of the skinning journey is pretty straightforward, as you just have to keep peeling down the body and the forelegs. When all of the skinned hide meets the throat and neck, you can cut the tissue around the head neck and make a big twist to pull it off. The neck meat can be eaten.
Now that you have completely skinned your deer, it is time to gut the offal. Whether you want to eat some of them or not is up to your preference.
To gut without accidentally piercing the organs and tainting the meat, pinch the flesh of the abdomen with your fingers and make a slit to fit two of your fingers in. Carefully cut up towards the anus, and then down all the way to the breastbone. Now you can expose the organs, and either let them spill out or inspect some of which you want to eat.
The liver is the first organ you will want to check first, because it indicates whether your deer is diseased or not when it is alive. You shouldn’t hunt deer or any other animal that shows clear signs of illness. You will know the status of your deer when you inspect your liver for any discolorations or spots.
If there are, discard the entire offal. If the signs are only visible on small parts of the liver, cut them out and the remainder should be safe to eat.
Other organs you can eat are the kidneys and heart. The kidneys make good stew flavorings while the heart can be roasted or also used in stew. While the kidneys have some fat, the heart has none or barely any.
Now you can start butchering the meat, and how you want to cut it is up to your cooking preferences. The choice cuts and tender meat are mostly on the rear half of the deer, while the tougher ones are at its forefront. Different cuts call for different recipes, and for tough meat, theirs serve to tenderize the muscle for easy eating.
It is best if you have an icebox to store the meat until you can carry it back to your freezer if you are doing this at home. Otherwise, you may need a few if you are field dressing outside.
You can start by cutting off tenderloin, located inside the back of the deer, which you have to reach out from the gutted cavity of its front. There are two tenderloins in a deer, and they are the most tender and delicious meats you can eat.
Now cut off the front legs and rumps, then cut off the backstraps that run parallel along the deer’s spine and rest on top of the ribcage. Ribs are good meat, but you need to cut off the bones while retaining the meat, preferably with a bone cutter or saw. Some people do not cut the ribs as it can be tedious.
If you haven’t cut the rest of the neck muscle yet, you can do so now.
At this point, only the rear legs and flanks remain. You are home free.