Oct 15, 2010

Hunting, Part 10: Rough Cuts

In Part 9, you went and found your deer, and made sure it was dead.

Now it's time to get dirty. If you're going to take any pictures of your kill, now is the time to do it. Take a rag or a few paper towels with you to wipe up any obvious blood, and tuck the tongue back in the mouth for a more professional (and tasteful) picture.

Field dressing (or "gutting" if you prefer) is not a clean process. With experience, you'll find that you're able to do it with less mess, but no matter how you swing it, you're going to be elbow-deep in a deer. Much like reading the wind, this can be a tough process to describe, and you're going to make some mistakes here and there. It's not the end of the world, and you'll learn.

I mentioned before that some hunters like to use the shoulder-length veterinary gloves. I don't bother. I do recommend the use of long-wrist exam gloves, ideally the heavy-duty kind. My personal preference is "P2" style gloves. They have fine dexterity, but are at least moderately resistant to punctures. A shot deer is likely to have some bone and/or bullet fragments inside it, which can be sharp. Additionally, you'll be working blind with a knife that is shaving-sharp.

Speaking of knives: I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. You are not John Rambo, and you're not hunting the deer with the knife, just gutting it. You don't want a long blade. Three to four inches is the ideal size. My personal favorite is a Buck DiamondBack Guide. It's inexpensive, sharp as hell, takes an edge easily, and the blade profile is great for working in an abdominal cavity. It really should be shaving-sharp; I run mine across a fine diamond stone before every single hunt, regardless of whether it's been used since the last one.

So, you're standing over your deer. The very first thing you should do is fill out your tag. If an EnCon officer happens across you gutting a deer without a proper carcass tag, you have the potential for some issues. Once it's filled out, slip it in your pocket, and start looking over your deer.

Look closely for bullet entrance and exit wounds, and look for any extra wounds. An extra hole or some scarring could indicate that another hunter already tried for this one, and there may be an old bullet or even a broadhead arrow floating around inside. If you think there might be, use extra caution, but get to work.

Roll up your sleeves and glove up. Roll the deer on its back and stand so you're looking at it from the back end. I will often tie one of the back legs to a tree to hold it out of the way while I work.

Cut a circle around the anus of the deer, as deep as your knife blade will go.

From there, make a longitudinal cut towards the rib cage, just barely penetrating the skin. To do this, I'll hold my knife with three fingers and extend my index finger along the spine of the blade. This helps push the entrails back and out of the way so you don't puncture those. If your deer is male, cut to one side or the other of the "bits".

Run the cut all the way to the breastbone, right down the center of the abdomen. If you've made this cut correctly, you should have a thin membrane bulging with the contents of the deer's abdomen. Grab a pinch of that and make the same kind of cut - all the way up, but this time, just slicing the membrane out of the way.

Roll the deer on its side. Most of those guts should flop out in one reasonably contained pile. You'll likely need to run your knife along the inside of the abdominal walls on both sides, and up to the spine, to free up the membrane on both sides. The lower end of the intestine may still be attached by some fibers where you cut around it before - just work your knife in a bit further from the outside and around it again. It should pull loose after that. If you want to save the liver, cut it apart and set it aside in a plastic bag now.

You should now have a relatively empty abdomen with one connection still in the body - the esophagus. If you look up inside the deer, you'll see the diaphragm separating the chest from the abdomen. Run your knife all the way around the edge of that. Be prepared for a fair bit of blood that had been retained in there, from your perfect shot that destroyed the heart and lungs. ;-)

Reach in - carefully - and scoop out whatever organs you find. Some folks will save the heart; if you want to, put it in the bag with the liver. You'll find a couple tubes still in there: the esophagus and the trachea. Now this is probably the hardest cut you'll have to do, since it takes two hands and is a blind cut. With your free hand, reach as far up and in as you can and get a firm grip around them. With your knife hand, carefully slice through both and pull them free.

That's it. You should now have a (relatively) empty deer!

Hook up your drag and start the long trudge back to your truck. If there's snow on the ground, one of those orange plastic toboggans works wonders for moving deer, and cleans up easily to boot - the kids will never know! Once you get back to your truck, put the tag on the deer. If it's a doe, cut a slit in the middle of an ear and use a zip-tie to attach the tag. If there's antlers, use a zip-tie to attach the tag to one.

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