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Written By: Cal Kellogg, February 7, 2014
The year was 1973 and I was six years old. It was late October and I was on a hunting trip in eastern Tehama County with my dad and my uncle Bob. The sky had been spitting rain all morning and the deer were on the move.
Uncle Bob liked to work certain canyon. Going down the country was rugged and broken. About halfway to the bottom, you encountered a band of lava cliffs and from there to the creek things got really steep. Bob generally hunted his way down the cliffs and then headed back toward the truck, but on this particular day he spotted a 3 point and several does about 100 yards above the cliffs.
The hit on the buck was high but fatal. That was the good news. The bad news was that before the buck died, it was able to flounder through a seam in the cliffs and continued flopping and rolling for couple hundred yards down the sloped below the lava.
After gutting the deer, Bob came and got dad to help him drag the buck out of the canyon. And drag they did, for the next 6 hours. They used rope and brute strength get the buck to the top…there had to be a better way!
Our initial solution was to avoid hunting the really steep canyons where dragging a buck out represented a tough physical challenge. Of course the trade off was that we were missing out on some great hunting.
In 1979 at the age of 12, I shot my first buck and I’ve been lucky enough to fill a tag the majority of seasons since then. While my hunting skills increased steadily in those early years, the way I handled a harvested buck pretty much mirrored what my dad had started doing 25 years before.
I’d tag the buck, gut it and drag it back to camp. At camp I’d skin it, hang it in a tree in a game bag and then drop it off at the butcher. I’d get back some steak, burgers and meat sticks. This all changed in the late ‘80’s when I started hunting with Roger Thieling.
Roger was and continues to be a union construction worker, but he’s also a dyed in the wool country boy. He can weld, log, fix seemingly anything mechanical and he’s an avid hunter and angler. Growing up in farm country in Minnesota, Roger knew how to butcher and process both farm animals and all manner of game.
One season of hunting with Roger, changed the way I care for and process deer and other big game animals. These days I seldom drag a deer and never utilize a butcher.
This October I got a deer in a steep canyon and ran a story in the Fish Sniffer detailing the adventure about a month ago. In the story I talked about field butchering the deer and backpacking it out. Last week while attending the Sacramento ISE Show I chatted with quite a few folks that asked about how I process my deer.
It turns out most guys still drag their bucks out of the woods. Many of them recognize that this is the old fashioned labor-intensive way of doing things and they are hungry for a new approach. This article is for them. I’ll detail how I process deer from the rifle shot to the freezer and in doing so I’d blow some long held myths out of the water…Let’s get started.
As a deer hunter I love the challenge of out guessing a public land buck and I feel profound satisfaction running my hands over the antlers of a mature buck. Yet as hunters we must never lose sight of the fact that at it’s core, hunting is about harvesting meat.
Venison is one of finest types of meat you can put on your table, provided it has been CARED FOR PROPERLY. I’ve seen prime eating deer basically ruined by guys that strap then to their tailgate and allow them to bake in the sun as they show the deer off to their buddies. By the time such a deer is skinned and cooled the meat will have taken on a musky, gamey flavor and the nimrod that tagged the deer will likely overcook the meat, making things even worse.
My venison is mild, tender and tasty. If I don’t tell guests that they are eating venison, they have no clue that they are eating “wild game.” My wife Gena hates gamey, musky meat, but she thoroughly enjoys the venison I serve.
Breaking The Deer Down
Bang! Dead deer. You tag it, take photos and celebrate….Awesome! What now?
The first thing I do is think about where I am. If I can drag the deer a short distance over flat ground, or better yet, downhill to a spot I can reach with my truck I start dragging. In situations like this I don’t gut the deer until I’m nearly to the pick up location. This keeps dirt and debris out of the body cavity.
Gutting a deer is intimidating for a lot of new hunters and there is a lot of myth and mystery connected with the process. Old timers will tell you if feces, stomach contents or urine come into contact with the meat, the meat will be ruined.
I’ve gutted and butchered dozens of deer and I can tell you this is absolutely NOT the case. You want to keep the meat as clean as possible, but while still doing the things you need to do to get the meat out of the field.
When I dress a deer I roll the buck onto it’s back with its head elevated if possible. To stabilize the deer I’ll off prop it up with rocks or tree limbs or I’ll tie one or both hind legs to surrounding vegetation.
Using some pressure locate the bottom of the rib cage. With the tip of your knife make a light inch long incision just below the ribs. Work slowly until you get through the hide and can insert a finger between the hide and the muscle below it.
Work your index and middle finger under the hide and carefully using the knife extend the incision all the way down to the anus. When you get to the genitals swing to one side and go right on past them.
At this point the hide is open, but the internal organs are still contained by the abdominal wall. Move back up to the top of the incision. Using a light touch with the knife make a one inch incision through the muscle.
You will immediately see a portion of grayish colored stomach behind the muscle. Work your fingers into the incision and using the same method you employed with the hide extend the cut down to the top of the genitals. Try not to puncture the guts with your knife, but if you do it’s not the end of the world.
At this point you’ll be aware of two things. First, provided your shot placement was good, there will be virtually zero blood on your hands up to this point. Second, the deer’s internal organs seem to be under pressure because as soon as the abdominal muscles part the insides want to spill out...this is good.
Using your hands and the help of gravity work as much of insides out of the incision as possible. Next reach up into the chest. You’ll feel a distinct “ceiling.” That is the diaphragm. Above that sets the heart, lungs and liver.
Locate the point where the stomach connects to the diaphragm. Work your other hand into the cavity and use your knife to cut the top of the stomach free. This is were it’s helpful to have a knife with a small sharp blade.
As soon as the stomach detaches, roll it out of the cavity. A long string of insides will follow with it. Some of them will be connected internally, but steady pressure with tear most of the internal organs free.
At this point there will be lots of blood. With a chest wound most of the animal’s blood pools in the chest and abdominal cavity. With 90% of the lower internal organs now on the ground between the buck’s legs, use your knife to fully cut them free. At this point the heart, lungs, liver, genitals and bladder are still intact within the animal. Flip the deer over and allow the cavity to drain for a few minutes and then proceed to load up the deer and head back to camp for further processing.
We are out of space for now. In the next issue of the Fish Sniffer I’ll continue this article. We’ll continue processing our “near road” buck and then move on to processing a “back country” buck - Cal Kellogg.Back To Reports
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