By Brad Lockwood
As a young man growing up I really didn’t have a clue what beef, pork or lamb tasted like, the only meat that received the blessing on our dinner table had been harvested with dad’s good old 270 Winchester and I suspect that the entire Lockwood family tree had been raised on various protein provided by the Pennsylvania forest. With a heritage like that and the fact that Uncle Bob was the local butcher I guess I didn’t have much of a choice but to learn to process wild game the proper way.
One thing we have always done, and you should do the same, is after recovering your animal remove the eternal organs as quickly as possible. There will be plenty of time for trophy pictures later! After an animal expires the fluids in the stomach and intestines will begin to permeate out through the thin organ lining and into your meat. Removing the organs quickly is a very important step in the proper care of your animal. Now Uncle Bob would have a fit if you flipped open the back legs and stuck your knife into the belly of the animal.
The first cut that you need to make when dressing an animal properly is to create a small 2” cut right at the base of the brisket or sternum of the animal. The reason we make the first cut here is because there are no GUTS there!
The intestines and stomach of the animal are located down in the pelvis of the critter so you defiantly don’t want to stick your knife in there. The next step is to take your knife insert it into that incision and open the belly all the way down to the pelvis of the animal.
This is where products like gut hooks and the newly designed gutting blade on the Outdoor Edge SwingBlade and Flip & Zip knives make opening the belly easy, (uncle Bob wished he had one 50 years ago!) After you have the belly opened up and all the organs there so you can see what you’re doing, you need to decide if you want to take this animal to the taxidermist or just put him on the dinner table.
If another head on the wall is out of the question then take your gutting blade and split the hide from the brisket up to the base of the neck.
Now you are ready to saw through the brisket bone of the animal. Never saw through the hair and push contaminates into the meat of your game animal.
Always split the hide with a knife before using your saw. However, if you are going to take your trophy to the taxidermist, then be sure not to split the brisket of the animal. They will need this area free from any holes in the hide to ensure that you will receive a quality mount. The difficult part of field dressing an animal without splitting the brisket is how do I get the lungs and heart out of the chest cavity safely? First push the stomach to the side and cut the diaphragm of the animal on one side. Now if you are an experienced hunter you may simply reach up into the chest of the animal and pull and tug to get the lungs and heart out but if you simply take an additional moment and push the stomach to the other side and cut the diaphragm on both sides the task of getting the organs out of the chest will be greatly reduced.Your next step after opening the diaphragm on each side of the animal is to first and most importantly take your free hand, meaning the hand that you are not currently holding a knife and grab the wrist of the hand that you are holding the knife with, now hold this grip and push both hands up into the chest of the animal, the reason for this very important step is to keep the knife ahead of your free hand, if your free hand is always behind the knife blade you will greatly reduce the probability of cutting yourself. Take your free hand which is behind the knife hand and grab the windpipe of the animal, pull and cut the windpipe off as close to the base of the neck as possible and pull the lungs and heart from the chest cavity of the animal, if you have properly cut the diaphragm on each side of the chest the organs should be very easy to remove. If you have chosen to split the brisket of the animal removing the lungs and heart will be very simple.
One tool I really like for spreading open a split brisket is Outdoor Edge’s, Steel Stick. The Steel Stick is a pivoting stainless steel bar that you place on each side of the brisket bone to completely open the chest of the animal. This allows you to see all the cuts that need to be made for easy access to safely remove the organs from the chest cavity. The field dressing process is over half complete and you have never been near the stomach and intestines of the animal. This is the benefit and reason for field dressing the animal from the neck back to the pelvis or from front to back so to speak. Many times in the past we have been taught to dress the animal from the pelvis (between the back legs) to the neck. Using this method if you do happen to rupture the stomach or intestines, you have to continue the process with this contamination spreading all through your animal until the field dressing is complete. When you field dress from the front to the back if you do puncture the stomach it will happen at the very end of the field dressing process.
You will now notice that the remaining intestines are only attached along the spinal column of the animal, while pulling on the windpipe of the animal cut along the spine until you have removed the organs from the animal the entire way past the kidneys to the pelvis. We are almost complete! Now using the gutting blade on your knife split the hide of the pelvis down to the bung or anus. Now you are ready to saw though the pelvis, never and I repeat never use your knife blade to split the pelvis bone of the animal, knives are made to cut meat not bone not to mention the danger of breaking off your knife blade and seriously injuring yourself. With that very important fact being made, use your bone saw with the tip of the saw facing out towards the bung of the animal and split the pelvis bone.
Always remember to point the tip of your saw away from the stomach and intestines of the animal, the last thing that you want to do is to punch a hole in the stomach with the tip of your saw when you are so close to having the job complete. After splitting the pelvis, now use a thin bladed knife like Outdoor Edge’s Kodi-Caper or Fish & Bone knife cut a circle around the anus of the animal. Pull up and if necessary cut along the spine and guess what? You have now completely field dressed your animal cleanly and safely.
Brad Lockwood is a commercial meat industry veteran with over 25 years experience. Brad host’s Outdoor Edge’s Love of the Hunt TV show and has produced Outdoor Edge’s full line of instructional Advanced Wild Game Processing DVD’s. To learn Brad’s expert knowledge for processing your wild game animals I would encourage you to see these DVD titles; Deer and Big Game Processing, Quarter & Debone Big Game in the Field, Advanced Sausage Processing, Advanced Jerky Processing, their new title Mastering Marination and the 5 DVD Advanced Wild Game Processing Library. Each video is filmed from multiple camera angels with extreme close ups and detailed information.