FIELD DRESSING 101
What many hunters dread can actually be one of the simplest and easiest parts of the hunt, and offers more opportunity for artistry from the perfectionist’s perspective. Field dressing game animals is also one of the most important aspects of the hunt and is a practice that must be performed carefully to avoid concerns with meat safety.
First, preparation is key. You’ll need the right tools, mindset, and timing to make it easy and smooth.
Here is a list of tools you’ll want to have in your pack, back at camp, or in the back of the truck:
· Gloves (latex are best for dexterity and cleanliness)
· A sharp knife
· Cordage or a wire rack
· A bone saw or hacksaw
· Game meat bags
Most game animals are simple to field dress: The guts are all in one spot, conveniently bagged up for you; it’s easy, as long as you don’t get overzealous and puncture an organ. The animal’s skin is easy to remove with a little bit of force and the right separation cuts and forethought.
Forethought, planning, and restraint are the focal points.
Steps to field dress a deer or any similar animal
1. Pull the tail area tight, and exercise extreme restraint, as you cut a two-inch deep or so cut around the anus, being careful not to nick the colon. You can go deeper but it may not be necessary and may cause difficulty with avoiding the colon. Any mistake here can have consequences from a meat safety perspective and can cause difficulty in the dressing scenario.
You will want to make a ring about a couple of inches deep and spaced about ¾-1” away from the edge of the anus all the way around. You’ll need to make sure the colon is separated from the connective membrane. Be careful to control the spillage if it occurs.
2. If you have a friend with you, having the animal laying flat on its back and positioning the legs apart will get the interior area of the carcass easier to extract the guts from. You could alternatively position a log underneath the sides of the animal and pull legs apart with cordage around a tree or wedging the legs with props.
With the legs apart you’ll notice a distinctive “V” shape that will denote where the testes or milk sac are. Cutting through the soft spot below it will allow you to remove the testicles and start your cut to separate the skin from the carcass.
3. Using the plunge cut you made, run your sharp knife straight up the center of the belly up to nearly the middle of the neck, past the front legs, until resistance increases, and you have a strong backing of breastplate bones.
You will need to make sure you are not able to miss with your knife—use your fingers to keep the skin separated just ahead of your cut. You can use your fingers to separate the skin from the membrane that contains the guts. After this skin cut is made, you’ll be able to find the diaphragm, which separates the abdomen from the chest area. It’s thick and slippery, but relatively easy to cut. Push down to the backbone to make a clean separation. Cutting the windpipe is the last step before you can remove the sack.
4. The cut of the windpipe should happen above the heart and lungs and liver. The liver and heart are good to go if preserved and chilled properly. The lungs should be discarded along with the now disconnected entrails sack. Just be careful as you pull the colon through to finish the process. You can discard the gut sack in the woods where you dress the animal, unless your jurisdiction says you cannot.
You can turn the animal over and let any blood that has gotten pooled inside the cavity out. You can tie the cavity closed if you will have to drag the animal, to make it easier to move and less susceptible to debris and dirt. Temperature is crucial. If you are in a hotter area, you’ll need to get the carcass to below 40 degrees within a couple of hours. If you’re in a cooler area, you won’t have too much longer.
The optional items listed will help with further processing, and in the field can help if you have extra time or the right conditions. But you only need a knife and some gloves to do the field dressing.
Butchery and preservation are up to you once you can get the carcass hanging (washed), drained, and chilled. There is no reason why you can’t nearly fully process a carcass at a truck or camp, though you should be careful of predatory animals, and process away from their sleeping areas to avoid problems. With a wire rack or enough paracord and some trees, you can grab a significant portion of the meat from a carcass, and pack it out in bags and ice chests.
What you’ll need to remember is that it comes down to doing it right a few times before you are basically an expert, and the old rules still apply: it’s all about forethought, planning, and restraint.