Let’s jump right in and take a look at the art of field dressing; a critical knowledge to any true outdoorsman. Whether you’re an avid hunter going out with your buddies or a newbie having your first foray into the great outdoors, one skill you should know is how to appropriately field dress game to maximize the safety of your meat and honor the game you’re taking. For that, you’ll need a proper guide to lay out the steps you should take when you do have to field dress your game. Let’s take a look at how to do it, step-by-step.
The Procedure of Field Dressing a Deer
Field dressing a deer is a necessary step in proper game processing. The skinning and eviscerating process requires knowledge, skill, and patience to ensure the animal is properly cared for. Before taking on this task, it is important to consider both sides of the argument: why field dressing an animal has advantages, and why it should maybe be avoided.
One benefit of field dressing a deer is that it helps preserve the meat. By removing organs and feces that can easily spoil and contaminate the meat, these are not packed adjacent to where they may rot quickly and start to cause problems. Allowing more portions of the harvest to remain healthy and free from foodborne illnesses such as E. Coli and Salmonella Bacteria is an advantage. By field dressing quickly after harvesting, hunters also help reduce stress on the animal as well as distract any predators that may be nearby.
There are valid criticisms when it comes to field dressing an animal. For those inexperienced or unfamiliar with this process, there’s always a risk of leaving behind internal organs which can rot and taint the overall freshness or safety of even properly harvested meat. Improperly field dressed animals pose problems for waste management as guts may leak into rivers or streams resulting in water pollution.
Gutting and Fire Cleaning the Animal
Once the animal has been field dressed, the next step in proper game processing is gutting and fire cleaning. Gutting entails removing the intestines and organs from the animal to be discarded. Fire cleaning is a process by which the remaining fat and flesh on the cavity walls are removed with a burning object such as a stick. While this may not be necessary for every species of game, it is important to prevent bacteria or parasites that can be caused through leaving excess butchering remains on the animal’s hide.
Fire cleaning should only be carried out if absolutely necessary, and regardless of the situation, should be done in an area with low levels of flammability and in an open space that can be easily monitored when carried out. There is much debate as to how this process contributes to either flushing out or trapping dirt, germs, or parasites within an animal’s hide; however, many experts contend that this method does not bring about any significant harm to game meat if completed properly. Some claim that clearing away fat and flesh can improve air circulation around the carcass and thus helps with cooling down during transport or storage.
Fire cleaning is a catchall term for several activities necessary for efficient game processing but should always been done judiciously—in keeping with safety protocols—and with mentionable benefits being considered before proceeding. With gutting and fire cleaning complete, it is time to put these critical steps into action by skinning the game animal.
Skinning the Game Animal
Once the animal has been gutted and fire cleaned, it is time to move onto skinning. While some may choose to leave fur on their harvested animal as part of a hunting or rustic themed display, for those looking to turn their game into meat for consumption, skinning is required.
There are two debatable methods when it comes to skinning an animal; waiting until the carcass cools off before beginning skinning or beginning the process immediately after slaughtering the animal. Supporters of waiting for the carcass to cool cite the idea that a cooler temperature will make the skinning process easier, allowing for a cleaner and quicker job. Those arguing for immediate skinning postulate that waiting can cause hair slipping out and a less desirable product due to an increase in decay throughout the wait period.
This debate is one that should be left up to preference. Taking into account factors such as time constraints and environmental conditions, any method chosen by a hunter should have them confident in their decision of how they processed their game animal.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends that hunters dress, skin, and cut up the meat from large game animals as soon as possible after harvesting them.
- According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, hunters should clean their knives and equipment between animals to reduce the risk of spreading diseases.
- A study published in 2017 found that properly field dressed and processed game meat has higher quality and sensory scores than non-prorly dressed or stored meat.
Removing the Fur with Fins
After skinning the game animal, you are then ready to move on to the next step: removing the fur with fins. Doing this requires first utilizing a pair of pliers or scissors and cutting the fur where it meets the hide, as close to the skin as possible. It is important here to be careful not to cut any flesh or injure yourself when doing this.
You will want to begin pulling up on the fur to separate it from the hide; this is where a finknife comes in useful. There are many types of finknives on the market but all should be sharp and come with a comfortable handle for use during this process. The most popular two types of finknives are curved and straight blades; reasons why you would choose one over the other vary from user preference to what type of fur they are tackling (i.e. softer vs coarser hairs). No matter what style of finknife you have or prefer, safety should always be exercised when maneuvering around knives, regardless of how experienced you become with their use.
You can then begin tugging away at excess fur with your fingers, using them to pull and strip away anything that remains attached. For stubborn patches where too much fur still remains, use your finknife blade lightly and scrape away at it like a scraping tool until it comes off easily and without leaving any residue behind. Following these simple steps will ensure that all fur has been properly removed from the hide before proceeding to cut and cord the internal organs in preparation for further processing.
Cutting and Cording the Internal Organs
Now that the animal has been skinned and de-furred, it’s time to cut and cord the internal organs. This process will require a knife and string if available. Using the knife, begin cutting just above the rectum along the spine of the animal and move to the base of the neck. When cutting, create one continuous line that is as straight as possible while avoiding any cuts in close proximity to organs like the stomach. Some people are more comfortable starting by cutting at the chest towards the lower belly area.
The choice between these two techniques depends on personal preference and can be determined through trial and error. Some hunters may opt to use their hands instead of a knife to delicately separate organs from other body parts and tear away connective tissues during the dissection process.
Removal of organs should take place in a manner which preserves as much tissue as possible in order to prevent contamination from bodily fluids or waste. After disconnecting an organ from its base point, secure it using cord or thread for later removal outside of the field dressing process. This helps protect both meat quality and food safety standards.
Streamlining the Cut Lines
Once you have cut and cored the internal organs, it’s time to streamline the cut lines. This step makes sure that you are removing as much meat as possible without wasting any parts. Start by dividing the carcass in half along its natural seams. On a deer, it would be along the center of the rib cage. Make sure to use a sharp knife and to be mindful of where the major muscles are located under the surface of the skin.
Carefully outline the muscle groups with your cutting tool, separating each group from one another. The more attention you give to these details during this step will make for an easier final de-boning process. As for sharpness of your tool, it is better to use a slightly duller blade than what might be seen as professional grade to prevent excess cutting that could lead to unnecessary loss of meat.
Streamlining the cut lines may take some practice, but with patience and dedication it can become second nature when processing game animals. Once you have successfully completed this step, you can move on to properly disposing of any waste created during field dressing.
Proper Waste Disposal Practices
Successful game processing is not only about mastering the physical skills of field dressing an animal, but also exercising good judgement in making ethical decisions. Waste must be cleaned up and disposed of properly. The ethics discussed in this article are especially important when handling guts and entrails.
After streamlining the cut lines, it is important to ensure that hunters treat their harvested game with respect by discarding its remains into legal dumpsters or landfills nearby. Many states have laws against leaving waste out in fields or in other areas where it is not allowed. To protect wildlife populations, hunters should properly dispose of any unused edible parts of the animal right away. Improper disposal can lead to disease, pest problems, and potential negative impacts on other species and habitats.
Leaving parts of the animal behind also invites scavengers like coyotes and raccoons to enter an area where they do not belong. Leaving a carcass behind after processing will draw ungulates like deer to the general area and could create dangerous situations for humans and animals alike.
Proper waste disposal practices should be widely accepted among all hunters regardless of individual beliefs or preferences. Every hunter has a responsibility to help protect our environment from unreasonable risks and hazards associated with improper waste disposal. Taking pride in our natural resources and doing everything possible to preserve them for generations to come is what true conservationists strive for.
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions with Explanations
What tools are necessary for field dressing game?
The tools necessary for field dressing game include a sharp knife, rubber gloves, a pair of game shears or scissors, a roll of paper towels, and a tarp or ground cloth.
A sharp knife is the most important tool for field dressing as it’s used for skinning and cutting through skin and tissue. Rubber gloves should be worn when handling wild game to keep your hands clean as well as protect from potential disease. Game shears or scissors are also helpful for cutting through tough membranes and cartilage during the process. Paper towels can be used to wipe down surfaces and hands during the process. A tarp or ground cloth is useful to lay the animal on while skinning it or to cover the carcass if needed.
How long can game meat be kept after it has been field dressed?
Game meat can be kept for up to five days after it has been field dressed, provided it is stored in a cool place such as a refrigerator. Immediately after field dressing, the game should be specifically cooled and placed in a container that allows air circulation. This helps to bring down the temperature and promote rapid cooling. The game should never be left outside of cool storage for more than two hours; if left beyond this period, spoilage and contamination is likely to occur.
It is important to ensure that your game meat is stored appropriately after field dressing as improper storage can lead to a host of hazards, such as food poisoning and contamination by bacteria. Bacteria in warm or moist conditions will grow quickly, leading to off odors, slimy surfaces and even discoloration, all signs that the meat has gone bad and is not safe for consumption. So if you’re hunting or fishing for dinner, make sure it’s properly stored so you can enjoy it later!
What are the steps involved in field dressing game?
The steps involved in field dressing game depend on the type of game being processed. Generally, these steps include:
1. Mobility – If needed, the game should be moved to a suitable area for processing, out of the sun and with clean surfaces.
2. Protection – As much as possible, the internal organs should be protected from external contaminants such as dirt and debris.
3. Evisceration – To open the abdominal cavity, slice into the belly skin and cut around both hind legs at the joint. Then carefully pull the hide away from underlying organs without puncturing anything.
4. Removal – The viscera and associated organs can then be removed from the animal’s body cavity.
5. Cleaning – When all of the organs have been removed, the inside of the carcass must be cleaned with running water or another appropriate cleaning solution to remove any remaining matter or debris (such as hair) that may have been present prior to evisceration.
6. Cooling – It is important to cool down the carcass quickly to help reduce spoilage and preserve flavor quality during transportation or prolonged storage. The most common method for quickly cooling down a dressed carcass is by hanging it in a shaded environment with good air circulation.
7. Preservation – Game can be preserved through taxidermy, tanning, freezing, drying, pickling, smoking, or canning processes depending upon what method best suits your desires and budget limitations.
Captain Hunter is a seasoned hunting mentor with over 20 years of experience in the field. His passion began as a young man on trips with his father and grandfather in the Colorado mountains. Today, he shares his unmatched skills in survival, tracking, and marksmanship through his website CaptainHunter.com. When he's not volunteering with youth hunting programs, you can find Captain Hunter providing expert hunting tips, gear reviews, and answers to your most pressing questions. His decades of experience make him the trusted guide to help any outdoorsman master the sport.