Skip to main content

Gutless Field Dressing How-To Guide for Deer and Elk

A detailed step-by-step guide on the gutless field dressing method for deer and elk.

So, you've found yourself standing over a bull elk, a caribou, or even a moose. Your heart is still pounding from the thrill of the hunt but your brain is grudgingly coming to the realization that there are now hundreds of pounds of delicious meat demanding your attention.

What do you do now?

First, slow down. Take a breath. Enjoy the moment. Sit down if you have to. Let it soak in. Those around you, or even the hour hand on your watch, will try to hurry you into action.

Now is not the time for haste. Well, at least not for a few minutes. To begin with, turn your attention to getting quality photos with a real camera. Shoot from a low angle, use a flash and shoot like there is no tomorrow, because for this beautiful animal - there isn't.


With that done it's time to dig out your knife. I carry the Outdoor Edge Razor Pro Saw Combo for several reasons. No knife will stay razor sharp through an entire bull elk breakdown so you either have to carry a sharpener of some kind or a replaceable blade knife.


The Razor Pro has a much stronger blade than other similar knives and it comes with six blades, so I know I will have a scary sharp knife no matter what I run into.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

The combo weighs only 11 ounces and includes a gutting blade and a folding saw, which works great for splitting the pelvis on all game. The saw can also be used for removing small trees and branches that may be in your way when field dressing or even clearing shooting lanes when setting up on the ground or in a tree.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

If you're going to hang your bull on the wall quickly cape it by skinning around the midsection well behind the front legs, up the back of the neck, past the front legs and up to the head. Remove the head and hang the cape over a log to cool.

However, if your only goal is to break the animal down into manageable pieces and get it cooled down, the best way to do that is called the "gutless" method. It's quicker and since you're not dealing with the entrails your meat stays cleaner.


You can leave the skin on the quarters to ward off dirt but we're going to assume you have to pack your animal out and need to eliminate as much weight as possible.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

First, cut around the top of the front and back legs, just above the knee. Take the gutting blade on the Razor Pro and essentially "zip" open the skin by slicing up the leg, across the mid-section about halfway up, and down to the other leg cut.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

Extend the cut up the bottom of the neck to the skull so you can get to the neck meat. Now skin the entire side up to and slightly past the top of the back. Don't waste valuable time skinning the belly section.


Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

Next, remove the front shoulder by simply slicing between the ribcage and the shoulder until it comes free. Slip it into a game bag and lay it in the shade on a couple logs so the air can circulate and cool it down.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

Now remove the hindquarter by slicing along the pelvis in a circular pattern around the base then lift the hindquarter and locate the hip socket.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk
Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk
Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

Use the tip of your knife to cut the main tendon inside the socket. Remove the hindquarter and bag it. Be sure to leave evidence of sex (testicle) where required.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

Next, remove the backstraps by slicing along the spinous process bones straight down to where the ribs attach to the spine. Slide your knife along the top of the ribs and meet up with your first cut.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk
Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

Run these cuts as far up the neck as you can then bag the backstrap, along with all the trimmings (neck, hip, and rib meat) from the entire topside of your animal.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

Now carefully cut into the body cavity along the spine just behind the last rib. You can use your Outdoor Edge saw to disconnect the last rib to give you more room to work.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

Reach in and filet out the tenderloin, which lies under the spine. Be very careful not to nick the stomach. You may choose to wait and remove the tenderloins as a last step.

By now, most knives are getting a bit dull, especially if you've been skinning the tough neck skin. With the Razor Pro you can simply change blades. But rather than waste them I just pull out my Outdoor Edge Sharp-X sharpener and run the blade across the ceramic rods to tune it up. This sharpener is virtually weightless and works great. A sharp knife is a safe knife.

Now simply flip the skin back down over the carcass, roll your animal over and repeat the process on the other side.

If you're packing your animal out on your back you'll need to "bone" the meat to save weight. With a little practice you can bone a hindquarter in less than a minute.

The front shoulder takes a little more work. Just remove the muscle groups from the scapula and bone out the lower legs and throw in the trimming pile. Boning is also the quickest way to get the body heat out of the meat.

Obviously, there is more than one way to "skin an elk" but this is a quick, clean, and efficient method for getting your animal cooled down and into your freezer in the best possible condition.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

High Country Colorado Turkey Hunt

High Country Colorado Turkey Hunt

Danny Farris and Doyle Worbington of J&D Outfitters are hunting turkeys in Colorado.

New for 2021: Bear Redemption EKO, Legit RTH Compound Bows

New for 2021: Bear Redemption EKO, Legit RTH Compound Bows

Bear Archery's newest bows - Redemption EKO and Legit RTH - are light, adjustable and fast.

Daybreak Whitetail Bowhunt

Daybreak Whitetail Bowhunt

Bowhunter TV Editor Derek Mleynek has a chance to fill his buck tag on a mixed bag hunt in Texas.

Canyon Ranch Roundup Part 1

Canyon Ranch Roundup Part 1

Bowhunter TV's Derek Mleynek and Equipment Editor Tony J. Peterson head to Texas for a late-season mixed bag hunt that promises plenty of action.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Seeing is believing with this year's crop of exciting new optics.New Optics for 2021 ATA Show

New Optics for 2021

Taylor Pardue - January 12, 2021

Seeing is believing with this year's crop of exciting new optics.

Scouting is critical to consistent success and these trail cameras put you on the right path to big-game success.New Trail Cameras for 2021 ATA Show

New Trail Cameras for 2021

Brian K. Strickland - January 08, 2021

Scouting is critical to consistent success and these trail cameras put you on the right path...

Take your hang-and-hunt to the next level with a Trophyline Tree Saddle. Look to Tree Saddle Hunting for Fall Success Treestands & Blinds

Look to Tree Saddle Hunting for Fall Success

Brian K. Strickland

Take your hang-and-hunt to the next level with a Trophyline Tree Saddle.

Whether you prefer hunting from a tree or on the ground, there is something new for you this year.New Treestands, Ground Blinds & Tree Saddles for 2021 ATA Show

New Treestands, Ground Blinds & Tree Saddles for 2021

Jace Bauserman - January 11, 2021

Whether you prefer hunting from a tree or on the ground, there is something new for you this...

See More Trending Articles

More How-To

Minimizing pin movement while aiming is critical to success, whether you're punching paper or the vitals on a big buck.The Best Stabilizer Setups for Bowhunting Bow Accessories

The Best Stabilizer Setups for Bowhunting

Joe Bell

Minimizing pin movement while aiming is critical to success, whether you're punching paper or...

Taking long-distance shots at big-game animals has become acceptable, but here's why it isn't the ethical choice.Is it Ethical to Take Long-Distance Bowhunting Shots? Conservation

Is it Ethical to Take Long-Distance Bowhunting Shots?

Curt Wells

Taking long-distance shots at big-game animals has become acceptable, but here's why it isn't...

Here's how to go from longbeards to big bucks on public land in the same season.Scout for Whitetails While Turkey Hunting How-To

Scout for Whitetails While Turkey Hunting

Tony J. Peterson

Here's how to go from longbeards to big bucks on public land in the same season.

With these tips, you'll improve your accuracy and fill more tags.How to Achieve Perfect Arrow Flight How-To

How to Achieve Perfect Arrow Flight

Chuck Adams

With these tips, you'll improve your accuracy and fill more tags.

See More How-To

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Bowhunter App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Bowhunter subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now