Field dressing: Be prepared when you kill a deer

Deer camera
With the rut about to begin, deer behavior changes with bucks young and old feeling their oats. Here's a pair of photogenic Ohio bucks sparring. (Trail camera photo)

Deer down! Mission accomplished? Not at all.

In fact, that’s just the easy part. Now the real work begins. What happens next is an entire event in itself.

Field dressing

Field dressing is first. After all, if one expects the best tasting venison, the guts gotta go and the sooner the better.

No, it’s not a race, but field dressing is a chore that needs done right after attaching a tag to the animal — the legal part of “deer down.”

That done, field dressing begins by rolling the deer on to its back to expose the stomach region from tail to rib cage.

Of course the rolling over is not always easy. After all, first the deer must be dragged out of the overgrown briars. Deer never drop in the open; it’s always in briars, in a creek, or in some other impossible tangle of unfriendly prickers, stickers or shiny three-leaf plants.

It’s a rule, so expect it. So you give the animal a tug.

Wow, you think it must be stuck in the mud, maybe held by the briars. You tug again and again.

Fortunately, the site is sloped and your downed deer does indeed, reluctantly follow you downhill. But as we all know from high school lessons that for every action there is a reaction.

You’ll understand this about the time the deer starts an increasingly fast slide down slope. That means that as the distance from the truck increases so does the distance to the truck.

And worse, if that distance is going downhill and away the opposite distance to the truck is increasingly far and uphill.

Understanding that, and the drag that awaits you, deer hunting becomes less fun by the minute.


Nevertheless, a successful deer hunter knows up front that he or she must be ready for the process and have not only the tools, but a plan.

My plan has a cell phone in it as well as the numbers of well-muscled grandsons and friends.

Field dressing itself is not terribly hard but it can be quite messy. Most hunters carry a temporary tag and a pen or pencil, sharp knife, and elbow-length protective gloves.

A couple wet wipes for clean up, too. Add to that list a length of parachute cord for dragging, and please take it all with you when done.


And one more thing, loop that drag rope around the chest of the deer to measure its girth.

The correct measurement is right behind the front legs. Tie a knot in the cord to mark the girth, so you can measure it in inches at home.

That measurement is going to convert to the approximate live weight of the animal. It may have seemed like 300 pounds while dragging it but in reality it was more like half that.

A 35-inch girth converts to approximately 126 pounds live weight. Most deer aren’t a whole lot larger than that.

Sorry if that takes away from the monster deer, running full-tilt, and downed with one quick off-hand shot part of the story.

Note: Keep in mind that deer hunters need to carry a valid deer tag on their person. Phone images don’t count.

Electronic images are proof of a hunting or fishing license but not a deer tag.

The temporary tag required before moving a deer can be handmade and attached to the animal. An index card, nylon wire tie and a sandwich bag do the job.

Also, a hunter must carry written proof of permission to hunt. It must be shown when requested by three persons; a state wildlife officer, the owner of the property or the land owner’s agent.

There are sizable and painful penalties for trespassing.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.



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