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Bleeding a Deer | Do You Need To Do It?

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I have a lot of fond memories of helping my father process deer in our backyard. While he never bled deer, I have heard plenty of hunters talk about it like it’s 100% necessary. I decided to do some research and find out who is correct and this is what I learned.

You don’t need to bleed a deer after you shoot it. Some hunters will drain the blood from a deer, making the carcass lighter and easier to process. But field dressing a deer will remove much of the blood. What matters most is making a clean kill and avoiding contamination.

Field-dressing isn’t for the squeamish: you’ll remove many of the deer’s internal organs, especially the intestines, stomach, and bladder, to prevent the meat from being contaminated. But it’s necessary to do it right, and the sooner you get it done, the better, especially in warm weather. Read on to learn more.

It’s a Matter of Personal Preference

It’s up to you to bleed a deer after shooting. You don’t necessarily have to. But if you want to bleed it after killing it, suspend the carcass by its legs from a tree or some other object. Then, cut it using a knife, starting from the base of its neck, creating a hole for blood to drain out.

Some hunters will do this as part of “curing” venison. In cold weather (ideally just above the freezing point), allowing the meat to cure for a few days can make it more tender, even tastier. 

Draining the blood reduces the risk that any blood left in the carcass will affect the venison.

The procedure itself usually only takes a few minutes. Aging the meat will usually last for around a week. 

Here is a video on how to bleed a deer correctly:

Why Don’t You Need To Drain a Deer After Shooting?

While many hunters bleed their deers after shooting, not all hunters take this step—because they don’t have to. They can easily take the carcass directly to a butcher or processor. The butchers will age the venison for the hunters as part of preparing the meat.

You don’t need to drain a deer after shooting because it’s unnecessary. The deer will bleed heavily after a good clean shot, especially when the shot goes through the heart and lungs. The animal will die soon after. Field dressing will then remove most of the remaining blood. 

One exception to the general rule might be if you shoot the deer through the stomach or intestines—a “gut shot.” If that happens, there will often be partially digested food or waste (feces or urine) released into the deer’s abdomen. That can contaminate meat or even render it inedible.

Then it becomes more important that the carcass be cleaned as much as possible, and bleeding might be part of that process. But you’ll probably do just as well to do a normal field dressing and let the processor know when you deliver the deer—they can take any additional steps to prevent contamination.

This subject comes up from time to time on hunting forums. The consensus among hunters is that bleeding is optional. It doesn’t hurt anything, but it isn’t usually necessary as long as you do a proper job of field dressing.

Field Dressing a Deer

Two Hunters Prepare to Skin, Dress and Process a Dead Deer

A complete guide to field dressing a deer is beyond the scope of this article, but I can provide a quick overview so that you’ll understand what you’re getting into. If you’re a novice hunter, you want someone with experience to guide you through the process the first couple of times.

Deer Field Dressing Basics:

  1. Examine the animal for signs of injuries, especially older hunting wounds. This step is particularly important with older bucks. It doesn’t happen often, but hunters have come across arrowheads leftover from prior encounters with hunters. If you aren’t careful around these, you can cut your own hands. You want to know if you are likely to run into any of those.
  2. Cut the skin around the anus and genitalia so that the bladder and intestines are free and can be removed through the pelvis later. Then, cut the belly open up as high as the bottom of the sternum—the base of the ribcage. If you don’t want to have the deer stuffed and mounted, you can also cut open the breastbone itself, but you should at least cut open the deer’s belly.
  3. Cut through the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle separating the heart and lungs from the stomach and intestines. Find its edges and cut the diaphragm there.
  4. Reach into the animal’s belly and remove the stomach, intestines, bladder, and genitals. Be careful not to rupture the bladder and pay attention to the intestines. If any urine, feces, or stomach contents spill out onto the meat, clean them off immediately.
  5. Remove the heart, lungs, esophagus, and windpipe.  With the bladder and intestines out of the way, you should be able to reach these now. Some hunters will hold onto the heart and liver. You may need to cut away connective tissues. 
  6. Dispose of the entrails. How you do this will depend on where you field dress your deer. If you are deep enough in the woods, you may get away with leaving them there. Local wildlife will clear them away quickly. But if you are close to a human settlement, you should bury them so they won’t be seen. State and local law may also call for you to bury entrails.

Here’s a video showing you how to field-dress a deer. (Warning: parts of this are graphic, make sure no one with a weak stomach or young children are watching over your shoulder.)

You can generally leave the entrails out where other animals can use them for food. Your next challenge will be carrying or dragging your deer back to your vehicle for transportation. But with many internal organs removed, your deer will be a great deal lighter.

Your last steps will depend on the weather. You can keep your deer outside to age—away from predators—when the condition is cold. The meat will spoil quickly in warmer weather, and you’ll want to get it into processing faster.

Why Do Some People Bleed an Animal After Killing It?

Some people bleed an animal after killing it because it helps to remove as much blood as possible. Doing so will also prevent bacteria from growing fast as blood promotes bacterial growth. The same goes for bleeding a deer. Bleeding a deer also promotes the deer’s aging process.

After hanging the deer by its hind legs, it doesn’t take long to cut a hole in the deer’s neck that will allow the remaining blood to drain out. 

If you opt to age your meat, draining the blood removes potential contaminants and improves the meat’s flavor.

But aging meat and draining blood are unnecessary, and in warm weather, it is more important to get the meat into the cold or into processing.  That goes for most animals, including ducks and rabbits.

How Do I Get the Best-Tasting Venison?

An inexperienced hunter can bring back meat that’s tough and stringy. But a skilled hunter can bring back tender and tasty meat that everyone will enjoy. There are two keys to better quality meat.

1. Target Younger Bucks

The largest and most majestic buck might be impressive if you want to mount its head on the wall, but younger animals tend to yield more tender venison. It’s up to hunters to decide their priorities, but they should be aware of the tradeoffs.

Older bucks will have the most impressive antlers. But if you want the best meat, you should focus on younger deer.

2. Make a Clean, Quick Kill

A clean, quick kill makes for better meat. If your deer is injured but strong enough to make an escape attempt, it’ll be pumping adrenaline and lactic acid into its muscles as it runs. Those chemicals will remain in the meat after the deer expires, making it tough and giving it an unpleasant taste.

A humane hunter won’t want to make the animal suffer. Take your time, get a steady aim, and target the heart and lungs – in the chest just above the front legs.  That will set up a good clean shot that will drop the deer quickly.

For the best quality meat, target younger animals, and take the time to make a clean kill shot through the heart and lungs. If your deer is young and expires quickly, you should get excellent venison.

If you have an older deer that puts on a run before succumbing, you still have some options to use the meat. Venison works well in sausage. The process of grinding meat up for sausage means you can work with tougher meat, and you can use spices to improve the flavor. You can even bland your venison with pork.

Parting Shot

When deer hunting. likely already know that your work isn’t done when you shoot the animal. After the fun part, you have to prepare it before taking it back for butchering. Knowing the exact steps to take is, unfortunately, not common knowledge.

There’s no need to bleed a deer after shooting it as a general rule. But you need to properly field dress the deer, which is a detailed process. Once the field dressing is completed, most of the blood should be drained out, anyway.

Some hunters like to age meat before processing or butchering the animal, and if you do that, it makes sense to bleed the remaining blood. But that’s not necessary, and you shouldn’t try it unless you have a cold area where the meat can cure properly without spoiling.

For more, check out Best Knife for Processing Deer | Hint: You Need Two.

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