Field Dressing Basics

Posted by  Friday, December 14 2012 12:00 am
expert

Let's talk about some basic field dressing procedures. In all actuality it's somewhat the same whether you're dressing an antelope or a moose but as you can imagine, a moose is a little more challenging. But, try to remember this so it doesn't overwhelm you.

I was totally blessed to have the best dad in the world. He took me hunting and taught me how to field dress my deer. His buddy, Mr. Teague, was the coolest guy in the world and would take us all deer hunting up until the day that he died. He'd wipe blood on the cheeks of kids when the killed their first deer. It was a tradition, or rather a transition into manhood. I hunted hard for three years and finally got initiated when I was 12.

Buck OmniHunter Gut Hook Fixed Blade
A gut hook, like this Buck Omni-Hunter Gut Hook Knife, makes it easier to slit the skin and muscle over the animal's stomach.

But what if you weren't lucky to have such a deal or maybe you had a great dad but he just wasn't a hunter? Let's walk you through the steps and see if we can't help you out.

I guess first we'd better talk knives. The last few years we've seen a huge influx of new knife brands. As many knife related articles and seminars as I do I thought that I was familiar with all of them but not a chance. So I suggest narrowing your selection down to these three manufacturers that I've had good luck with them and they will suffice for all your field dressing needs: Havalon Knives, Knives of Alaska and Puma. Many people also use a gut hook to slit the skin and muscle over the paunch. They simplify things immensely, but I'm old school.

Let's lay out the scenario of cleaning a deer. The sooner you start, the better. When their stomach starts bloating, it will be harder not to puncture the paunch (stomach). After the last picture is taken, roll it over on its back.

With a clip-pointed type knife, carefully stick the point under the skin – let's say 6-inches in front of a point between his back legs. Then insert your two fingers into the cut and place the blade between your two fingers. Push your fingers and the knife forward slicing the skin towards the brisket (forward to a point between the front legs) on up to the head of the brisket.

The only place that you really have to be careful is in the paunch area. Now go back and very carefully make a slice through the thin stomach muscle. The paunch  is located under the surface. You do not want to puncture the paunch or it will contaminate your carcass.

In the same manner that you slit the hide, place your two fingers under the stomach muscle and slightly lift up. Place the knife in the gap and move it forward. The intestines will start pooching out. That's fine, just don't cut them. Cut up to where the sternum begins.

The intestines will be flowing out somewhat. That's fine. Now here is a trick that they do in beef packing plants that works great and will help you have a clean carcass: Make a cut through the skin around the bung hole. Pinch it and pull out a bit and make a mark around it. The tube goes through a channel in the hip bones to the small intestine. It is not held too tight. Cut around the tube loosening it. It is held somewhat with a fatty type of material.

Now, pull out the bung a few inches and place a baggie over it and tie it on with a string or rubber band. Now go back inside and pull the intestines out which will pull the bung through the channel and out with the gut pile.

Here's why the bag concept is great: You know how the round between the legs always turns green and sours so fast? That is because you contaminate it with fecal material and hair. Many people, and I did for years, will slice the skin between the legs and then lay their knife on the pelvic bone and hit it with a knife cracking it open. They then lift the rectum out of the channel, still attached to the paunch. It's just with the bag you protect your carcass from the hair, dirt and fecal material attached to the hair around the bung. Remember, deer don't use toilet paper!

Hunter With Bull MooseNow roll the carcass onto its side and let the paunch roll out. You will notice that the paunch is attached to the backbone area of the carcass. Gently cut loose the area that is holding the paunch and roll it out of the cavity onto the ground.

The stomach is separated from the chest cavity by two muscles called the Inside and Outside Skirts. Slice through these and pull out the heart and lungs but first you will have to slice between the sternum bones. On younger animals the sternum bones at this juncture are connected by cartilage and easy to cut through. A serrated blade really cuts through it easily. On older animals it's harder. On large animals you may even want to saw through it.

If you are saving the head to be mounted then talk to your taxidermist before you leave on how he wants you to skin your animal. The method that I am employing here will not allow you to do a head mount. You'll need to do it a little different.

Now cut into the throat right below the head and cut through the esophagus. Make a slice around it to loosen it up. Go inside the chest cavity and pull the lungs out which will pull the esophagus out of the neck. You will have to mark around the esophagus to loosen it so it will come out.

You now have the gut pile out of your carcass. Roll the carcass over on its stomach with the legs spread out. This allows the blood to drain. Now roll it back over and put a stick in the brisket to pry it open to allow for faster cooling.

Congratulations, you have now field dressed your first big game animal. Granted you're a little bloody and it didn't go quite perfectly but you did it. You'll get better and faster with every animal. 

Tips

  • Some people recommend using latex gloves. I never have but I guess one year I did get a bad rash after dressing a moose.
  • I cut off the musk gland on bucks. This is the dark patch of thick hair on the inside of the back hocks.
  • The hide acts as a coat. The sooner you remove it the faster the carcass will cool down.
  • I hunt in the back country of Idaho so this won't work for me but if you have access to a water hose, rinse out the inside. This will clean up your carcass plus it will start the cooling down process.
  • I don't field dress my bears. I just skin them and then bone them out without gutting it.
  • Stick a frozen milk jug of water in the chest cavity to help cool it down.

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Last modified on Thursday, April 11 2013 1:17 pm
Tom Claycomb
expert

When not writing for Bass Pro 1Source, Tom Claycomb has a column in the magazine Hunt Alaska, writes for Havalon Knives, and has outdoor columns in newspapers in Alaska, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He does freelance writing for numerous other magazines and newspapers; writes for, LIMB Saver, Bowhunter.net, Bowhunter.com and Western Whitetail Hunter

In addition, Claycomb teaches 60 seminars annually at sports shows and various outdoor stores.  He is on Prostaff for numerous companies and has tested products for many major outdoor companies. He likes anything outdoor wise and fishes/hunts from Alaska to Florida. His works are available for purchase on Amazon Kindle.  He has killed numerous world record animals (6 years before they reached that status). 

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