Deer hunters: Pack gear to properly field dress your deer

Temperatures higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit lead to increased risk for food safety concerns for hunters.

Though there seems to be a chill in the air, fall temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit mean that hunters must be diligent about following food safety practices to prevent foodborne illnesses. Michigan State University Extension recommends cooling carcasses as quickly as possible along with additional food safety guidelines to prevent cross contamination. The flavor and overall quality of meat is negatively impacted by exposing the carcass to cycles of floating temperatures above and below 40 F. Meat will not freeze until temperatures reach 26 F.

There are several resources available to assist with field dressing a deer and describing each step of the process. Penn State Cooperative Extension published a Field Dressing Deer Pocket Guide. Michigan State University and Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ white-tailed deer website has a How to Field-dress a White-tailed Deer factsheet outlining each step.

Here is a quick checklist of additional gear to pack when hunting:

  • Several pairs of tight-fitting, disposable gloves – these not only can protect hunters from disease but also assist in keeping the deer carcass clean during the dressing process.
  • Clean, sharp knife and small saw or heavy duty snips to make cuts and split carcass.
  • Pre-moistened wipes and/or container of clean water to maintain sanitation of knife and saw.
  • Strings about six to eight inches long to tie off the anus and assist in other dressing procedures.
  • Large resealable food grade plastic bag to place the heart and/or liver into.
  • Clean, dry towels or paper towels to dry the carcass with after washing.
  • Rope to tie legs apart or drag deer.
  • Kill tag attached to a string.
  • Flashlight.

When hanging a deer carcass, it is recommended to hang it with the head down so that all of the blood can be drained from the carcass. This will result in higher quality meat and is similar to how carcasses from livestock are hung. Process the meat from the carcass as soon as possible as aging venison is not necessary and could increase gamey taste.

Escherichia coli (E. coli) is naturally occurring bacteria in fecal matter of deer and other mammals. Some strains of E. coli are pathogenic and can cause foodborne illness. Other harmful bacteria can be found in deer as well. Bacteria are able to double rather quickly if the conditions are acceptable, especially above 40 F. With daytime temperatures above 40 F, deer hunting generally occurs in conditions that can cause rapid microbial growth.

Additional things hunters should look for are signs of disease such as internal organs that look or smell funny. When in doubt, do not consume the venison and properly dispose of the entire carcass. The MDNR has check locations available to test any deer that is suspect for chronic wasting disease or bovine tuberculosis.

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