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Bull Eld Taken by Muzzle Loader

Processing Your Kill

I had a reader last night ask me about how to skin and field dress animals, and that is something every hunter should know how to do.  It is a lengthy topic, which I plan to write a chapter about in my book, and to be effective it needs a lot of illustrations.  But I can touch on a few things here in a post tonight to help prepare you, which is the first point.  Before you set out to hunt or trap an animal, be sure you know what you are going to do with it once you have succeeded, and be sure you have the things you will need ahead of time.

For small game and birds, you can generally clean them at camp or at home at the end of the day, so you don’t need to have as much gear with you to perform the task as you do with a deer or an elk.  For small game and birds all you really need is a good knife, and for birds a pair of wing clips (basically a heavy duty pair of scissors).  By “good knife” I mean a small clip point blade 3 to 4 inches in length.  A drop point blade will work, but I like a clip point so you can get into the small places of a small animal to skin it cleanly and make your cuts on the meat precisely.  You will also want sealable plastic bags to store the meat and hide, and a few good towels to clean up your hands afterwards.  You won’t get too messy cleaning a small animal or bird, but it’s good to have a towel designated for that particular task.

This is my favorite hunting knife for big game.[easyazon_image add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”B000EHWWJQ” cloaking=”default” height=”160″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/31NQ9V55H4L._SL160_.jpg” tag=”bearmilloutd-20″ width=”160″]

Harvesting a big game animal is a whole different story.  Unless you are hunting somewhere that you can drive a vehicle to your animal, which I don’t, processing a deer or elk requires a great deal of preparation, skill, gear, and knowledge.  Once you have safely approached your animal and made sure it is dead, take your pictures, affix your hunting tag, and it’s a good idea to hang something with blaze orange on a tree or something very close to you so that other hunters know there is a human there.

I prefer to save the hides of my animals, so the first thing I do is skin the animal.  If it is a trophy, I will be careful how I skin the front of the animal in case I want a shoulder mount, this is where a caping knife is important.  A caping knife is a small drop point blade used to get the hide from around the animal’s face back to the shoulders.  For skinning, and the rest of the process I use two knives, a 6” clip point knife and a 4” drop point.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot to write about this topic, but to skin an animal you basically lay it on its back, and imagine a line down its center and up each leg.  You want to cut just under the skin along these lines, and then peel the hide away from the meat, using the sweeping edge of the blade to separate them, being sure that you never puncture the body cavity.

To perform this with an elk or deer, you will need some paracord to tie the legs to something stable, usually a tree.  I have never cleaned an elk on flat ground, and they are huge animals, so you need to be able to stabilize the carcass while you work.  This is also very important for safety; blood is very slippery, and you need to work on the animal with great care, especially when it’s freezing cold and your body isn’t functioning as it normally would.  The last thing you want to do is cut yourself, which could be a disaster.

Once you have skinned the animal, then the butchering task is next, which I will write about at a later time, and you need more gear for that, like a game saw and game bags.  As I said, this is a lengthy topic, but I hope I have given some useful information to get you thinking about it.  As with anything, the key is to be prepared and have the right gear to get the job done.