How Not to Field Dress and Butcher a Deer

From the shot to the freezer

butchering deer, upstate ny, barn
After the deer is down: Linc Lyman, Avery Stirratt, and Shawn Orbanic.Courtesy of Steve Burnett

I am just back from a weekend hunt at the farm of my friend, Steve Burnett, in Bovina, N.Y. There were four other men present, all of whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting before at the Campfire Club: Shawn Orbanic, Lincoln (Linc) Lyman, John Hayes, and Avery Stirratt. Avery killed a small doe on Friday before I showed up, and I got another doe, ever so slightly larger and from the same stand, on Saturday afternoon.

I field dress deer the same way I pack, which is to say, as if it’s the first time I’ve ever had to tackle that task in my life. It took me a ridiculous amount of time to get the windpipe out, to tie one leg with cold fingers to a bush to open the pelvis, to cut around the anus, and to slide the guts out more or less in one piece. I did not use the miraculous Butt Out tool, which has never worked for me. I did, however, get the insides out without rupturing the bladder, which was a first. I have no idea how I did this. I do suspect it will never happen again.

There are countless videos on YouTube showing hunters wearing white gloves field dressing deer in 12 seconds, after which the gloves are still white. Please do not refer me to any of them. Please do not share with me the way that you personally clean deer, which is almost certainly one from which everyone else could learn. I’m obviously defensive about my lack of skill, but it’s also possible that I enjoy inventing the process each time. At some level, I mean. Maybe being bad at it is—in my personal and twisted case—also something I enjoy.

If field dressing is difficult, butchering is—both theoretically and in practice—impossible. With the help of Avery and Linc, we did get the doe onto a gambrel and hoisted up a few feet off the floor in Steve’s barn. Remember that the longer you wait, the harder it is to skin the beast. I took care of that chore the same evening. Then I was mentally exhausted and broke for cocktails, dinner, and bed. The next day I spent three hours attempting to reduce the deer down into its major parts and to bone these so the meat would fit in my refrigerator freezer, which is already stocked with ducks, turkey, and fish. My version of butchering involved liberal use of a Sawzall, much profanity, and the unfortunate mutilation of some of the meat. No soup kitchen would think of accepting what I ended up with. If you have tips about this, please send them to David E. Petzal. I heard he’s as bad as I am at butchering.

All in all, it was a great trip. By the time you’re in your 60s, hunters no longer greatly care about who’s the best or worst at things. We no longer have the need to prove anything to anyone. So there’s no pressure. This is kind of nice. I also noticed that five out of the six of us have grown white beards. My take on this is that, like me, the others thought they were doing something original, something other guys weren’t doing. It was funny to think we’d all had exactly the same illusion about being different. It was funny to ponder the gentle fools we’ve all become.