How to kill a deer
February 21, 2008 11:14 PM   Subscribe

Short story research: what would your average, on the weekend hunter use to kill a deer (gun, bullets, etc)? What is the process after a deer is killed? What is taken, and how, and what is left? How long would it take for what is left to be gone? Thank you!
posted by Corduroy to Science & Nature (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Field Dressing a Deer.

A video (graphic).
posted by Bookhouse at 11:21 PM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

A typical gun would be a scoped bolt action rifle. Brands such as Winchester, Sako, Tikka, Remington and Ruger would be common. Typical calibers would include .270, .308 and 30-06. In North America, I'm guessing that the 30-06 would be the quintessential deer cartridge. The hunter would be trying to place a bullet in the animal's heart or lungs, aiming behind the shoulder.
posted by tim_in_oz at 11:44 PM on February 21, 2008

Depending upon the area the hunter is hunting in, s/he may also use a 30-30 or a slugged shotgun in the Great Plains. Blaze orange is required hunting wear, for safety reasons.

They will probably sit in a 'blind' along deer trails through the woods and wait for a deer to come by. When one does, they will shoot the deer, aiming for the vitals behind the shoulder. If they hit the deer, it will often 'jump' a bit or rear up. A good shot will bring the deer down quickly, within 20 yards of where it was shot. If the deer is wounded, it will take off and the hunter will track it by following blood and broken flora trails. A second shot is sometimes necessary to finish a deer. Some hunters have a ritual or small prayer to say after killing a deer.

The deer is then dragged back to either the 'camp' or launching point. Wealthy hunters can employ a 4x4 ATV to do this.

The deer is field dressed, as above, slit sternum to anus and the offal is removed from the carcas and dumped. Some hunters save the liver as a prize for cooking that night.

The deer is then hung from a tree to allow the rest of the blood to drain.

Depending upon the area, the offal will attract scavengers such as crows quickly. If you're in northern climes, the offal will generally freeze solid before it can be removed and your dog will find it in the spring and roll around in it. ;)
posted by unixrat at 4:04 AM on February 22, 2008

The weapon used can depend on what time of the year you are hunting.
For instance, here in Indiana, deer hunting is divided onto two bow-hunting seasons (early and late), a general firearm season, and a muzzle-loading season. Pick your poison.

If you happen to bag a deer, you must check the harvest to an official check station within 48 hours.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:15 AM on February 22, 2008

Here in the southeast most hunters use a tree stand; often manufactured as in the link, but also often made of scrap lumber nailed to a tree. Each hunting season there are a number of serious head and back injuries caused by people falling out of stands (although most have some sort of safety strap). Because this part of the country is heavily wooded and deer are shot at close range, a slugged shotgun is probably the most appropriate weapon (and the only one allowed during hunts on the Army base near my house) but most people use rifles as described above because it seems more manly.

After shooting a deer it is field dressed and tagged (the tags come with the hunting license) Many butcher shops and taxidermists will process deer for a fee, but some hunters, particularly those that kill a lot of deer, will process it themselves. If the deer is a particularly good one it will be processed in such a way that the head or other parts can be mounted.

Each state's Dept. of Natural Resources or equivalent should have a web site detailing hunting seasons and other regulations for that state.
posted by TedW at 5:01 AM on February 22, 2008

I shot mine with a 30-06 (pronounced "thirty-ought-six". It had an optical "scope" sight on it so the aiming part was dead easy (pardon the expression). I'm far from an expert shooter but I managed to drop the deer with the first shot.

The first thing I had to do was cut a slit in the back leg to clip my deer tag into (proof that I was allowed to shoot the deer). You have to clip it around a tendon that remains intact - this is so you can't use the same tag more than once.

Next I had to slice open the belly and get the guts out. You have to take special care when cutting around the anus in order to avoid contaminating the meat with fecal matter. After dumping the guts on the ground we grabbed the deer and placed it in the back of the truck. WE then took it to a nearby house and hung it head down in the garage.

I remember the freezing cold of having to wash my arms off with snow (they were covered in blood almost to the shoulders).
posted by davey_darling at 5:44 AM on February 22, 2008

Heavily populated areas don't allow the use of a 30-06 because the lethal travel distance is too great. When hunting in Montana, my dad used the 30-06. In lower Michigan, it's more commonly a 12 gauge slug. If you're using a specific locale, check with the local Fish and Game dept. for firearms limitations to ensure authenticity. You should be able to pick up a hunting regulations guide with this info at any sporting goods store that sells hunting and fishing licenses.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:10 AM on February 22, 2008

There are also hunters who enjoy using unusual weapons, where legal (and sometimes even when not legal.)


Vintage 7MM Mauser (rare round, long range, favorable ballistics)
7MM Remington (Pretty standard, actually)
Handguns (Nutty, not terribly effective)
posted by SlyBevel at 6:56 AM on February 22, 2008

This information is for Texas.

Rifles are almost always used. I have never heard of anyone using a shotgun for deer in Texas, although I'm sure it's done occasionally. Common calibers are .223, .243, .30-30, .30-06, .308, & 5.56mm, 7mm, 8mm. Rimfire cartridges are illegal, so all these are centerfire cartridges. Most rifles are scoped bolt actions, but semi-automatics are becoming popular, especially the AR type rifles (civilian version of the M-16). Different rifles are used in different areas. Lots of brush: slower, heavier rounds, like the .30-30 or .30-06 (not slow, but powerful). Less brush: .223, .243, .30-30, .30-06. Long sight distances require larger caliber rounds with better ballistics, such as the .30-06 or .308. Smaller deer can be taken with any caliber, larger deer, such as Mule Deer, Elk, etc. require larger calibers.

Orange clothing is suggested, but not required on private land. You are required to wear orange on public land. The vast majority of Texas is privately owned. Most hunters now hunt on deer leases. The leases are usually leased from ranchers, who make extra money by allowing people to hunt on their land. Leases usually have a cabin or mobile home for the hunters to stay in. The often plant food plots or put up automatic corn feeders to attract deer. Some ranches are high-fenced (tall fences that keep deer from crossing) in order to better manage the deer herds captured on the ranch. Deer leases are big business in Texas and the cause of some conflict between high and low fenced ranches. Leases range from 50 to 2000 acres and more. Leases are often intensely managed to produce large-antlered deer. This requires good nutrition, so leases are managed: nutrition in the form of minerals and food plots are provided, excess animals and animals with poor genetics are culled. Hunters often keep the same lease for many years and improve the deer herd themselves.

Shots are taken either behind the shoulder into the heart/lungs or into the neck or head. The neck/head shots are usually taken on non-trophy deer. Heart/lungs is easier on long distance shots. I'd say most deer in south Texas are shot at 25-75 yds. In the Panhandle, it's probably 100 yds, out to 200 or more.

When we shoot deer, we usually gut them in place as described above, and haul out the rest of the carcass. You can carry out some white tails, but mule deer have to be hauled out in a pickup or by ATV. ATVs are very common among hunters. Coyotes take care of any leftovers that night. If processing in camp, you hang them in a tree, skin them, then cut the carcass into quarters (cut off the feet, split the pelvis with an axe or saw, remove the head, cut the front legs from carcass, then the back legs - discard ribcage and backbone). You can then process the quarters into cuts. Most take the skinned carcass to a processor who does it all for you. The backstrap (muscle that runs along the backbone) is considered a delicacy because (it is tender) and is often removed before processing. Most deer is either ground into sausage or cut into steaks. If sausage, pork fat is added since deer is too lean to make good sausage by itself. Steaks are often processed further into thin strips and jerked.

A tag must accompany the deer at all times after it is shot. The tag comes with your hunting license and must be attached and filled out (name of ranch, date, etc.) immediately upon shooting the deer. The tag, plus proof of sex (e.g. antlers), must also accompany deer until it reaches its final destination (e.g. processor). You will be in serious trouble if you do not do this and a Game Warden catches you - you can incur a very large fine and possibly criminal charges.
posted by CRS at 7:07 AM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

In places where rifles are allowed, the above mentioned weapons are by far the most popular choices: .270, .30-06, .308. You might choose different rifle ammunition depending on where you are hunting...heavily forested mountainous locations would encourage the use of round tipped bullets that would be less likely to be deflected by leaves and small branches...flat open locations would be more appropriate for spire tipped (pointy) bullets that would be more stable and accurate at very long ranges. In the forested mountainous locations, a shot of more than 100yds would be flat open country or farmland shots of 300 yds or more could be possible. Some places (generally flat geography and/or more densely populated) require the use of shotguns with slugs because the projectile does not travel as far.

A really skilled hunter might attempt to shoot a deer in front of the shoulder at the base of the cervical spine...damaging less meat and ensuring a quicker kill. A less practiced hunter would be better served by aiming for the chest cavity behind the shoulders which offers more room for error but may allow the deer to run for some distance before falling. Both rifle and shotgun hits will usually produce a meaningful amount of blood on impact and sometimes clumps of hair. The size of the blood trail can vary widely depending on where the deer is hit, but a shot through the chest cavity will generally produce an obvious trail as breathing activity forces blood out through the wounds. A gut shot deer might produce little or no blood if the damage is primarily to organs that are less vascular like stomach and intestines. A good hunter will wait for a few minutes after making what he is sure was a good shot and visually mark the spot where the animal was standing when hit. A wounded deer might continue to run if pressed by a pursuing hunter but is likely to lie down after a short run if the hunter remains concealed. Once a seriously wounded deer is down, it is unlikely to get up again...but I have seen and heard of all kinds of crazy things happening...including a hunter who leaned his rifle aginst the presumably dead deer while he reached for his camera and then watched the deer run off with the gun's sling tangled in the antlers.

Once the deer is found, it is best to field dress as soon as possible as demonstrated in the video above. Removing the internal organs and letting the carcass bleed is better for the meat and the deer will be lighter and easier to handle. The entrails are left right where they are removed and are typically consumed pretty quickly by coyotes, crows, other small critters. The hunter would then pick up the deer with a vehicle or drag it to a place where a vehicle could reach it.

If the hunter planned to process the deer himself, the deer would be hung by its hind legs and the skin peeled downward using a sharp knife to seperate the tough connective tissues. Then the hams, shoulders and tenderloins would be removed and cut into steaks or roasts and the remaining meat ground into burger. In cleaning the steaks and chops it is important to remove as much of the fatty tissue as possible to reduce the gamey taste.
posted by cyclopz at 7:35 AM on February 22, 2008

A good summary here.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:20 AM on February 22, 2008

Where and when is your character hunting? Styles of field dressing? Legal requirements on types of guns, seasons, styles of hunting and tagging/registering your "harvest" will greatly vary.

Please let us know some details so we can respond adequately. Thanks.

Here's an example:

Alabama: large caliber, scoped, bolt action rifle, with hand pressed specialty teflon tipped partially jacketed bullets from a fixed, elevated stand overlooking an artificially created grassy clearing in a deep woods. The carcass might be loaded onto the ATV and taken to a central location where it would be hung, gutted and skinned and then placed in a large freezer for a few weeks then taken to the butcher. A doe would have her jaw removed and tagged for the game warden, a buck would not.

Indiana: shotgun with slugs from a temporary tree stand on the edge of a fallow field or harvested corn field. Deer might be field dressed (gutted) in place (the guts placed in a garbage sack), then dragged by hand to the hunter's pick-up where it would be taken to a registration center for tagging. Then it would go to the butcher for processing.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:26 AM on February 22, 2008

Wow, I'm really blown away by all the detailed responses! Thank you all.

Some specific details of the story: the hunter is on his own land in New Hampshire. He's not super experienced nor is he very serious, and is following the trail of blood left by the deer he has shot.

Again, thanks a lot for all the information and links.
posted by Corduroy at 8:44 AM on February 22, 2008

If he's following the blood trail, you should know that you can get an idea of the type of shot you made by looking at the blood:

Blood will tell you a lot about the hit. Blood from the lungs will be foamy or have tiny bubbles in it and will be pink. A flesh wound is light red about the same color as if you cut yourself shaving. Light colored blood that’s greenish will have bile mixed in and indicate a gut shot. Blood from the Liver, heart or arteries will be the darkest of all and look to be the color of a dark maroon.

(taken from here, which seems like it'd be a pretty good read for you)
posted by davey_darling at 8:58 AM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Blood trails are tricky. I used to take underprivileged kids hunting as part of a charity group. Many times, the kids made poor shots and I didn't get a chance for a 2nd shot before the deer escaped, so I've tracked many deer. Sometimes blood is everywhere and a clear trail is easy to find. Other times, you'll see a small drop half the size of a dime 10 yards apart. My technique for tracking goes like this:

First, go to the spot where the deer was shot. This is sometimes difficult to narrow down, especially if it was far away. Look for blood, hair, beaten down vegetation (if the deer fell before running), and scrapes in the dirt. If you can't find the area, start where you think it is and spiral out from that point, looking for any clues. Once you find a blood spot or some other sign, stand there and look for the next spot. Usually, when the deer is shot, it will run in a straight line for a distance, then veer off toward the cover it is used to, be it a thicket, a creek bed, or a canyon. If you lose the trail, go back to the last place you found a sign, and look for another spot in a 30degree cone from the previous line of travel. If you don't find anything there, do the spiral again from the last blood spot.

Wounded deer will often bed down in thick vegetation and be very difficult to see. Sometimes you can hear a wheeze or other noise from the wounded animal. davey-darling's description of the blood color is right on, although I rarely saw any green from gut-shot deer. Blackish blood usually meant a fatal wound and a deer close at hand, but not always.

The longest track I made was on a gut-shot whitetail shot by a very experienced hunter, who basically screwed up. It was in south-central Texas, semi-arid, very rocky and broken terrain. I tracked the deer from about 6:45 am until I found him in a creek bed 3 miles away around noon. I lost the trail numerous times since he was barely bleeding. Once, I only found the trail again because I saw a spot of blood on a yucca blade about knee high. The deer had laid down next to the creek and I passed him within 20 yards at least once, maybe twice. He was still alive and trying to cross the creek when I doubled back after losing the trail and I shot him as he was crossing from about 30 yards. Gut-shot deer stink to high heaven when you gut them, so I called the hunter on my cell and made him do it.

Lots of guys won't put that much effort into tracking, but I feel terrible about letting wounded animals suffer if I can do anything about it.
posted by CRS at 9:20 AM on February 22, 2008

Lots of guys won't put that much effort into tracking, but I feel terrible about letting wounded animals suffer if I can do anything about it.

@CRS: Spending all that time and energy tracking the deer is the right and honorable thing to do. I commend you.

This is part of the reason that I hate hunting near dusk. Tracking a wounded deer is difficult enough without falling darkness to complicate things. I spent three hours helping a buddy track a wounded deer. It was bitterly cold when we tracked it to a clearing on adjacent property (not ours, but we got permission) and lost the trail time and again. We finally figured that the deer had tried to cross an unknown (to us) pond and fallen through the thin ice. That put me off dusk hunting pretty much permanently as it could have been any of us wandering onto that pond and falling through.
posted by unixrat at 11:58 AM on February 22, 2008

You don't have to track a deer at dusk if that is when you shoot it. A lot of times you have a better chance at finding it if you will wait til the next morning. If you try and find it that night, a lot of times it will have laid down and be in the process of dying, only to have you jump it up and it will run for a few hundred yards and lay back down. The whole process can continue all night. It is better in that situation (when you know it is not dead), to just give it time - wait til morning and it will likely die where it first laid down.
posted by catrawr at 1:12 PM on February 10, 2009

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