How to Process a Deer

A really important element if you will process a deer yourself is to know what type of equipment is necessary to do a proper field dressing or skin off and not massacre your trophy.

Many techniques are possible when you are processing a deer. You may choose the one you are comfortable with. This article is a guideline and not the only way to do it.  If you don't want to get in any of these techniques, the question you should ask yourself is "where is the nearest deer processing shop near me"?


Good Hygienic Practices while hunting

Let's see it that way, nobody really wants to spend to much time on cleaning or disinfect everything. However, if your actions compromise the quality of your meat, there is no point to hunt. This is why integrating the basics of hygiene into your hunting habits might just save you a lot of trouble.

  • Avoid hunting if you are feeling ill.
  • When field dressing wild game or fowl, always protect your hands with gloves (latex or nitrile) to reduce the risk of exposure to disease. Not mandatory but should. 
  • Do not use the same tools to clean different species to avoid cross-contamination.
  • If there are too many old wounds or abnormalities on the carcass, consider disposing of the entire carcass.
  • If there are small affected area or small abnormalities (intestines have an abnormal smell or discharge, or if pockets of blood are seen in the muscle unassociated with the bullet/shot/arrow wound), remove a larger area around the affected zone and discard it. Even if its look normal it might harbor infection.
  • Minimize contact with brain or spinal tissues and if you have to, use a hand saw. 
  • Avoid abdominal shots because if any intestinal contents of the game come into contact with meat, the meat should be considered contaminated and should be cut off and discarded. 
  • Wash properly your hands immediately after handling wild game or fowl, including the tissues and meat.
  • Wash also tools, equipment, and working surfaces properly followed by disinfection immediately after handling any wild game or fowl. 

These points wrap-up the most basics actions to ensure a safer manipulation of your meat. Concerning the carcass itself, after being shot, a trained person must carry out an examination of the body and of any viscera removed to identify any characteristics that may indicate that the meat presents a health risk. The examination must take place as soon as possible after killing. The person should examine if there are no abnormal characteristics to be found, no abnormal behavior was observed before killing and if there is no suspicion of environmental contamination. If too many abnormalities are found, you may consider discarding the entire carcass. 

When the carcass passes the examination, the animal must be chilled within a reasonable period of time and this, to no more than 7°C. Over that temperature, bacteria can proliferate and damage your meat and make it unfit to eat. In case you want to process small wild game for the market, the meat should be chilled to no more than 4°C and must be immediately eviscerated on arrival in the game handling establishment. Same for a large wild game, internals should be removed as soon as possible.

The reason of chilling the meat as soon as possible is to avoid biological harmful food poisoning. During processing, some bacteria can grow such as E. coli O157 and Salmonella to name only them. Time is then the essence of quality and combined with proper use of the right tools, you ensure to fill your freezer with good meat.


Proper field dressing kit

Concerning deer processing equipment, there are few essentials listed below that you must have if you want to process a deer or any animal on the field. These tools will avoid you to suffer while you are processing the animal.

  • A set of sharp knives. A bigger field dressing knife to cut the skin and a smaller field dressing knife to cut inside the carcass.
  • A hand saw for bones cutting
  • A whetstone or steel for sharpening your blades if necessary. There is nothing worse than trying to process a deer with an unsharp knife.
  • Several feet of rope or nylon cord to attach and transport the animal
  • Six-inch rubber bands for transportation
  • Clean cloths or paper towels
  • Sealable storage bags for the obvious purpose of transportation to reduce contamination,
  • Clean water, premoistened wipes, or alcohol swabs to clean the knife frequently or between cuts to avoid dragging bacteria into the meat.

These essentials combined with good hygiene practices should make every of your processing a successful one. There are many all in one field dressing kit, however, you should at least make sure that you have the three main blades. A larger knife with a gut hook to ease the skinning off process, a smaller for cutting and caping along the bones and a hand saw to get through even the most challenging parts of the animal.

Some of the field dressing kits allow for soloing hunt but the best practice is to be paired with your hunting buddy. Processing is much easier with a second pair of hands.

That being said, using the wrong tools may cause frustration or even injuries to yourself. A poor knife with a workable edge won't stay that way for long. How to sharpen a hunting knife is the keystone of harvesting properly your animal. Having a sharp and in a good condition knife will be day and night for you.


How to process a deer.

Deer processing instructions

Before getting into the process, there are some aspects I wanted to cover as good hunting practices.

First off, your shot placement is obviously capital to kill the animal but more importantly, a poor shot placement increases the risk of losing the deer and would result in higher stress, which can degrade meat tenderness and flavor even if you do recover your quarry.

I would also recommend you, like mentioned above, to be paired to process a deer and to be paired with a more experienced hunter to do it for the first time so he can teach you all the subtilities of processing a deer.

TipAnd in case you’re wondering, no, field dressing deer on your hunting land isn’t likely to spook others out of the area. Not the best of course when you disturb your hunting place but clearly not going to affect enough for other game. Parading all day before dressing it out is worse than doing it on your hunting ground. Those entrails and organs need to come out eventually, so get it over with. It takes body heat a long time to dissipate from the carcass and keep in mind that high temperatures quickly turn a few harmful bacteria into many.

Tip: If you intend to age your meat you should gut out the carcass but keep it at a temperature of 34-38 degrees Fahrenheit, with the hide on. This helps retain moisture, a key factor for meat quality.


How to process a deer on the field (without hanging the animal)

After a kill, two options are ahead of you. First, you can process the animal on the field which depending on the size of the animal would be the best option. Second, you can bring it to a place that allows you to do it properly like your backyard or your garage. But, remember that time is the essence here to ensure a certain quality of your meat. 

In the scenario that you cannot bring the carcass at home, you should be prepared to do it on the field but no matter if you are doing it at home or on the field, the practices should stay the same.

I could write down all the processing but instead, now that the internet allows it. Here is a deer processing video that shows good hygiene practices and proper use of a field dressing kit.

I would instead give some tips to enhance the quality of this video.

  • You can pump each leg a few times (folding them toward the body when the animal is on his back) to make sure the blood doesn't accumulate in these areas. It will make your meat more tender because it will reduce the body rigidity.
  • Cut around the anus to loosen the bung so it will come out when the entrails are removed. Tying off the bung with rope, cord, or rubber bands will prevent feces from contacting the carcass during removal.
  • Make the cut by lifting the skin and muscle together.
  • Don’t make any sudden movements. When in doubt, back out and think before making another cut.
  • Avoid cutting the paunch and intestines since bacteria associated with foodborne illness may be found in these organs.
  • Place variety meats in a plastic storage bag and store on ice or refrigerate as soon as possible.



How to quarter on the field and how to backpack out from the field

Some hunting scenarios bring you far away from any kind of transportation. Therefore, other techniques are possible to ease transportation when you are on the field. One of them is to backpack out by quartering right on the field and transport it home to butcher the meat and freeze it.

In the next video, you can notice that the blade of its knife is not sharp enough to properly do the job. It does cut but should be much easier when the blade is a lot sharper. He doesn't wear gloves but it is not mandatory like I mentioned earlier, simply more hygienic.

    This Technique doesn't allow you to harvest the whole deer but in the circumstances that you are far away from any transportation, it is one of the best ways to process a deer on the field.

    Once that done and you head back home, you are ready for the next steps.


    How to butcher a deer

    Few basic rules should be followed when you intend to butcher your own meat. First, any uncooked meat should be frozen or refrigerated properly. Second, once wrapped and ready to be frozen, you should store the meat on bottom shelves to avoid blood dripping on other foods. This simple action will reduce the potential contamination of other foods. Remember however that refrigerated or frozen does not mean free of bacteria. This is why good hygienic practices from the beginning ensure you better quality meat.

    That said and that you have quartered the animal and you are ready to butcher it to freeze it but what are the parts you can actually butcher?

    (Picture from

    How to Process a Deer 


    Venison Tenderness Chart and Choice Cuts


    Most Tender to Least Tender

    Approximate Weight % of the animal

     Preferred Cuts



     Most Tender


     Filet Mignon

    Under lower spine (inside the abdominal cavity)




    Sirloins Steaks, Loin Roasts

    Beside Spine, from hip to shoulder




    Rump Roasts

    Top of Rump, near the tail




    Round Steaks, Round Roasts

    Haunches, between hip and knee




    Chuck Roast, Blade Steak, Stew or Burger

    Both sides of the shoulder blade





    Between shoulders and Flank




    Neck Roasts, Ground Meat Stew or Burger

    Neck to the tip of shoulders




    Brisket, Ground Meat, Jerky

     Belly from between ribs




    Jerky, Ground Meat Sausage or Burger

     Lower Legs


     Less Tender


    Stew, Sausage, Ground Meat, Jerky

    Belly and sides and from Between ribs

    Now that you have a better idea of what you could do with your venison. Take few minutes to see the following video to give you a good overview of good hygienic practices while cutting your meat.

    No need to be a butcher to do it yourself, however, a professional can probably cut more out of the carcass. It goes to personal preferences at this point.  

    Anyhow, there is always a time to learn something new. By doing it yourself, you can follow the process of your meat from the field to your plate which ensures you in some sort of the quality of your meat. 

    After cutting all piece in the desired cuts, the next steps and one of the most important is to wrap up the meat in butcher paper and package them properly. This means try to keep air out as much as you can while packaging. This step will determine how long you will be able to keep the meat. The better you do it, the longer you can keep your meat intact and fit for consumption. 

    Tip: In case you preparing your own ground meat, thoroughly clean and disinfect all equipment after use.


    Recipes and time to eat!

    Finally the reward, many recipes are possible with wild game venison. That being said, the cooking temperature is capital to make sure that organisms and parasites are killed. Each type of meat as its own temperature to make sure you eliminate bacteria as much as you can.



    How to process a deer on the field or at home should be the same practice. If you encompass the basic rules of good hygienic practices with your hunting skills, you will ensure the quality of your meat and at the same time, your own health. 

    Thank you for reading us, do not hesitate to leave any comments below or ask any questions. Have a nice Hunt!


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