The Gutless Field Dressing Method

The Gutless Field Dressing Method

It may not always been necessary to gut your deer to get your venison, but you have to make sure you're doing things properly and responsibly. 

There are many different aspects to deer hunting. From scouting to shooting to processing, it requires many different skillsets. This is an activity that requires proficiency in many different areas. That’s true for breaking down a deer, too. Knowing the steps is crucial, and one of those is gutting the deer. But is it always a necessary part of the process? No, it isn’t.

Initial Understanding
Long have hunters been gutting deer and hanging them up. That’s deer hunting. It’s tradition, and it’s part of the appropriate process. Most of the time, gutting a deer is still not only necessary, but all-out expected. It’s the right thing to do. But that isn’t true in every scenario. Here’s when it is and isn’t necessary.

Times you should not use the gutless method:
• When taking it to a processor
• When letting it hang overnight
• When not breaking down the meat immediately
• When trying to save internal parts, such as caul fat

Times you should use the gutless method:
• When breaking down the deer immediately
• When internal parts, such as caul fat, are not desired

So, for those wanting to use the gutless method, here’s how to do it. Oh, and yes you can get that tenderloin by following this process.

(Disclaimer: Use necessary game processing equipment and methods, including gloves, goggles, apron, sharp, appropriate knives, etc. Follow proper processing procedures.)

Step 1: Hang or Position the Deer
Begin by either hanging the deer or laying it on its side. Hanging it makes the process much simpler, but not everyone can do that, especially if breaking down a deer in the field. So, for those who choose to hang the deer, carefully do so. For those who don’t, lay it on a flat surface. Step

2: Skin the Deer
If the deer is hanging, the skinning process is no different than with any other processing job. Start around the neck and work the hide down the deer. If the deer is laying flat, it’s a slightly different process. Start by cutting through the hide down the spine. If you aren’t keeping the cape, do this from the back of the head to the tail. (If saving the cape, it’s an entirely different process.) Then, work the hide away from the deer as you work toward the ribs, and then the legs. Continue until all hide is worked away from the deer.

Step 3: Pull the Backstraps
Remove the backstraps from the deer. Angle the blade toward the spine and separate the meat from what I call the “backstrap shelf.” This needs to be done on two sides (next to the spine and under the backstrap. Oftentimes, once started, you might even be able to pull the backstrap out without using a knife. Repeat this step on both backstraps.

Step 4: Pull the Tenderloins
Now, for the step some don’t believe is possible. With the backstraps out, look to the back half of the exposed backstrap shelf. The tenderloin is located just under it. Make a short, shallow incision through the thin membrane where the backstrap shelf meets the intestinal lining. This is where the guts are encased, so don’t poke the blade down into it. Then, with a small opening, continue opening it along the edge of the backstrap shelf with your hand. Once this opening is about 6-7 inches long, reach inward and feel the tenderloin. Without using a knife, and just using your hand, carefully separate the tenderloin from connective tissues. Once it’s free, pull it through the incision you made at the beginning of this step. Repeat the process on the other side of the deer.

Step 5: Remove the Front Quarters
With the backstraps and tenderloins out, it’s time to remove the front quarters. Debone the meat while it’s still on the deer. Take all available meat off each shoulder. Most of this will be small cuts, which are great for ground meat and small chunks or cubes of venison, which are ideal for stews, stir-fries, etc.

Step 6: Remove the Hind Quarters
As with the shoulder, it’s important to remove the hind quarters. Either remove the entire leg or debone while it’s attached to the carcass. Either way, carve out each cut of meat. Trim out and save any remaining morsels once the larger, primary cuts are out.

Step 7: Secure the Neck
Those who prefer or are required to save the neck meat should do so. Generally, the neck meat is good for roasts and ground meat. Carefully trim away all desirable venison.

Step 8: Get the Ribs
Likewise, if you’re required to take the ribs, or merely prefer to, it’s best to gut your deer. However, if you don’t gut it, and trim out the rib meat, it’s best to do so with the deer laying flat on the ground. This creates a small amount of separation between the ribs and entrails.

Bonus: Have a Heart
The heart is a delicacy, and more hunters are keeping it. Fortunately, you can still remove it without taking out all the guts. Make an 8-10-inch incision along the underside of the chest cavity to reach in and remove the heart. With that complete, carefully reach in and separate the heart from connective tissues. Then, pull it through the incision.


Can you get the tenderloin out of a deer while using the gutless method?
Yes, you can get the heart, tenderloin, and even the ribs without completely gutting a deer.

How quickly should I process a deer if using the gutless method?
This is not a viable method unless you can process the deer immediately. Leaving the entrails inside without removing the venison will keep the body temperature elevated and allow the meat to spoil.

What do I do with the lymph nodes?
You should remove all lymph nodes from the meat. Do not eat lymph nodes, as these carry higher risks of carrying diseases.

Where do I dispose of the deer carcass?
Unless dropping it off at designated carcass deposit sights, the best place to dump a deer carcass is on the property it came from. Do this away from roadways and water sources, though. This limits the potential spread of diseases.

What do I clean processing equipment with?
According to the National Deer Alliance (NDA), the best method is likely bleach water. This helps to neutralize disease threats, perhaps even chronic wasting disease (CWD) prions.

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