Field Dressing Big Game
You’ve worked hard all summer on your physical conditioning, your shooting, and preparing your gear, and it all pays off when you take down a big deer, elk, or moose. Your adrenaline is pumping, you are ecstatic, and you can’t stop smiling, which is great for the pictures you take with your harvest. Once the pictures are done, the real work begins, especially if you hunt in remote wilderness areas. The primary thing you should be concerned about after harvesting an animal is preserving the meat that you worked so hard to take. The two main things to consider are cooling the meat and keeping it cool, and keeping the meat clean.
I wrote an article a while back about processing your kill, which you can read by clicking here. In that article I talk about how to process an animal, with the promise of writing more about the specifics someday, which I haven’t done yet. I am a little apprehensive about writing specific instructions on how to skin and gut an animal simply because there is so much to tell you, and I generally keep these articles kind of short. This is a topic for a lengthier discussion with a lot of illustrations, which I will include in the book that I keep saying I am going to write. I’m working on it.
However, I do have some tips for you here about some things you need to process your animal, and how to care of the meat. I will also include images of the things I describe, and if you click on the image you will be taken directly to Amazon.com to see the details about that product, and you can even purchase it if you so desire. The basic gear for processing an animal in the field is pretty minimal; you need field dressing gloves, a good knife or two, and game bags. If applicable, you also need something to carry the meat out of the wilderness, either a game cart or a sturdy back pack, ideally one that is designed for carrying game meat.
I mentioned field dressing gloves as the first item. These gloves are important not only to keep your hands clean, but more importantly to protect you from any disease the animal might have that you don’t know about. Rubber gloves also give you a better grip on your knife, and they protect your clothing as well. This glove set has a pair that go up to your shoulder protecting your clothing, as well as a pair of tight-fitting rubber gloves that allow full control of your cutting instruments. [easyazon_image add_to_cart=”default” align=”right” asin=”B004MXAS44″ cloaking=”default” height=”160″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41wPm8VZi-L._SL160_.jpg” tag=”bearmilloutd-20″ width=”79″]
Your most important piece of equipment is a knife that is sharp and will hold an edge. Cleaning a large animal with a dull knife is not only difficult, it is dangerous. There are a ton of knives on the market these days, way too many to review, but I can tell you what works best for me. I have used a Buck 119 knife for over 20 years, and it still has another 20 or more in it, or more. The design has a clip point with a good sweeping blade that is good for skinning and cutting. The blade is 420HC stainless steel, which holds an edge well, and is easily resharpened in the field. [easyazon_image add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”B000EHWWJQ” cloaking=”default” height=”160″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”yes” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/31NQ9V55H4L._SL160_.jpg” tag=”bearmilloutd-20″ width=”160″]
Game bags are a critical piece of equipment to preserving your game meat, keeping it clean, and protecting it from insects. There are a lot of game bags that you can buy that are pretty cheap, however they are most likely only going to be used once. If you don’t mind that extra expense each year, it’s not a big deal. I used disposable game bags for 30 years and didn’t mind the extra $10 or $15 cost each hunting season. Plus I didn’t really like the thought of cleaning used game bags. But I have changed my opinion in the past couple of years with the light weight, reusable game bags made out of muslin. These game bags take up a very small amount of space, they have features such as built-in tie closures, reflective pieces of fabric tied on the seams which make them easy to spot when they are hanging in a tree and it’s dark. [easyazon_image add_to_cart=”default” align=”right” asin=”B00BQXP820″ cloaking=”default” height=”160″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41a160E%2BW1L._SL160_.jpg” tag=”bearmilloutd-20″ width=”160″]The Allen Company Backcountry bags take up so much less space than the other bags I have used in the past, which allows me to bring other necessary items in my day pack. These bags also prevent penetration from flies and other insects.
After a harvest, it is important to get the meat cooled down as quickly as possible. If you have cleaned an animal that is still on the ground and you have to leave it there for a while, prop the body cavity open with a stick after you have removed the intrails . If you are in a situation where you will have to take a few trips to get your animal out, or you are waiting for an outfitter to pack you out, hang the meat bags in the shade, high from the ground so that they cannot be touched by coyotes or other scavengers. In bear country, you need to hang them higher than the biggest bear in the neighborhood, which may mean 15 feet above the ground. If possible, it’s best to hang meat bags near a creek as the air temperature will be cooler there. Keep in mind that bacteria can begin to grow at even 40 degrees, so you have to take these measures immediately to preserve what you have worked so hard to attain. In addition to that thought, give some respect to the animal; you owe it to the animal to not let any part of it go to waste due to your lack of knowledge and procedure.
To pack an animal out on your back, you need a good backpack, ideally one that has a strong frame, good harnesses, and is designed to carry meat. I wrote an article about selecting a hunting pack, which you can read by clicking here. In that article I talked about the difference between a day-pack and a meat hauling pack. The last thing you want to do is take down an elk two miles from camp, and then have to go back to camp to get a pack to haul meat. What you need is a pack that can perform as a day pack without too much weight or bulk, but can also pack meat. In that article I recommended the Badlands Sacrifice Backpack, which is the one I use when I know I will have to pack out an animal on my own. This pack is light, yet sturdy, and it can handle an elk quarter with no problem. [easyazon_image add_to_cart=”default” align=”right” asin=”B00I4ST466″ cloaking=”default” height=”160″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”yes” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51EjD4bMZ9L._SL160_.jpg” tag=”bearmilloutd-20″ width=”160″]
[easyazon_image add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”B00IRFF6JK” cloaking=”default” height=”160″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/5168grTUKDL._SL160_.jpg” tag=”bearmilloutd-20″ width=”137″]The other pack that I use is the Blacks Creek “The Answer.” This is a great pack for deep wilderness adventures, and the thing I like about this pack is that I can carry all of the gear I need for an extended wilderness hunt, and then detach that from the frame and insert a big load of meat next to the frame, with an accompanying shelf, and then re-attach my storage pack. Yes, it creates a heavy load on the first trip down the mountain, but once I’m at my truck, my pack can be detached from the frame, and I can use the frame for only meat hauling. This is a great pack, and it is very versatile.
One thing that so many young hunters underestimate is the effort that is involved after a kill, especially in wilderness and mountainous areas. I have passed on good shots on many elk simply because of where I found them, and I would not want to even think about trying to pack an elk out of those areas. There is a saying with outfitters about clients getting elk in really tough terrain; “The only way you’re going to pack that elk out is with a frying pan.” While it’s a tough thing to consider, you have to be cognizant of the implications of where you may take an animal; sometimes killing something isn’t the right thing to do. If you can’t take care of the meat in a timely manner, then you have wasted your hunt, and the life of an animal.
As you take to the field in the rifle seasons that are upon us, be prepared with your skills and your knowledge. Be well equipped so that the animal you will hopefully bring home will be fully consumed, nothing wasted. Happy hunting!