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Drop, Drag or Gut?

So, you’ve just successfully culled a fallow doe, and are standing in front of the carcass. You placed the shot just behind the front leg, a third of the way up the chest on the broadside animal - a classic heart shot. The closest you can get the vehicle will be a 150m drag away, so what do you do now?

Most stalkers go for the ‘stick’ at the junction of the base of the neck and the sternum to bleed the animal and may try to hoist it vertically to aid this. It is believed that this is necessary to let out the blood for better keeping qualities in the larder. Or is it?

Enough blood

I would argue that a chest shot deer has bled sufficiently internally, or externally through the bullet holes. Opening up the carcass just exposes meat that can be Larry Fowles makes some pertinent observations on what to do with the deer you’ve just shot contaminated during the drag. If you expect the deer to be back in the larder inside an hour, why not leave the carcass unopened? I have discussed this with a number of stalkers who are uneasy with this idea. But if you look to the meat trade, there is research and evidence to show that pigs, after stunning, can be (and are, in larger plants processing upwards of 1800 a day) bled when lying down very efficiently. When hoisted, very little further blood is released. The heart or chest shot deer is bleeding out similarly to those horizontal pigs, just internally.

Conversely, a neck shot roe buck will need attention more rapidly. This shot usually kills efficiently on the spot, but the blood pressure will not have been released, as no major blood vessels have been severed. Those stalkers who have come across road killed deer will know that relatively undamaged carcasses, when opened, have full arteries, veins and muscle. The meat from such a skinned animal is of a different colour and will not keep as well as a bled animal!

In technical terms, it is similar to a moribund (dying or nearly dead) animal whose heart has not the strength to keep up internal blood pressure, so when dead and stuck, it does not bleed out. In an abattoir, an inspector would reject the carcass as unfit for human consumption.

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It’s all about blood pressure; has shooting the animal caused enough damage to the circulatory system to effect a bleed out? If so, then there is no need to stick the carcass until back at the larder, and then it is just to clean the chest cavity, not to relieve the muscle of blood content. In doing this, there is the bonus of minimal contamination during the drag and journey.

In the larder

The stomach and intestines are another consideration. I specifically discussed a fallow doe earlier. They are in season 1st November to 31st March, as are roe does of course, the colder months over the winter! An hour in these temperatures will not be enough time for the stomach content to start to swell, so no problem to eviscerate at the larder. The only problem I encounter with this is the physical weight of a fallow doe! Unopened, they are very heavy to lift single handedly into my vehicle to process back at the larder. In this case, I do not take my own advice, as a pulled back muscle is not good for further stalking!

Roe bucks are in season in the (generally!) warmer spring, summer and autumn period, when the stomach content will ferment and swell very quickly. This makes the evisceration process difficult due to the risk of puncturing the rumen and contaminating the carcass, so ideally should be removed as soon as is practically possible. If the stalker does this in the field, the immediate problem are flies. Bluebottles, especially in late summer, are looking for somewhere warm to deposit their eggs, and an open deer carcass is ideal. I have seen a young fallow buck pelvic cavity with hundreds of eggs laid within 90-minutes of opening the carcass. If I have to leave an opened deer in situ in the summer, I pull some long grass and cover the openings to stop flies entering; this seems to work well and I have had no repeat of egg laying. Of course, a muslin cloth or tube could be carried to cover the carcass and stop the flies, but I like to carry as little as possible on a stalk.

Leave nothing

The question of whether to leave any body parts in the field arises. For me, my arrangement is that nothing is left, as the landowners and family don’t want to come across ‘parts’ when out dog walking, so everything is bagged and removed. However, intestines and stomach seldom lasts longer than 4 or 5 days in woods, if shallow buried, before the local badgers or foxes find it. Not so feet or heads, which can remain identifiable, i.e. with skin and hair, for months!

I rarely remove the pluck (heart, liver and lungs) in the field, it’s best to keep it intact with the carcass for a number of reasons. Firstly, if the shot was to the chest, it will be the bloodiest cavity, so to keep the rest of the animal clean, I leave the diaphragm untouched until back at the larder. Secondly the liver may be harvested for human consumption and heart for the dog meat mix, so the cleanest place for both is in situ. Thirdly, it is easier to inspect the liver and lungs back at the fridge, and bag them if necessary for the trip to the game dealer for a professional opinion.

Pulling this all together, in winter it seems best to me to bleed and dress the doe carcass back at the fridge, if within a short time frame. In summer, care needs to be taken to effect evisceration of the stomach more rapidly. In either case, a neck shot animal, if the bullet does not sever major arteries, will need to be bled in the field.

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