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Dressing Your Game In The Field
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October 14, 2011
10:22 am
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editor
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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.

Dan Kidder

Managing Editor

Sportsman’s News

—–

“A nation of sheep breeds a government of wolves.”

October 14, 2011
12:31 pm
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colorado hunter
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You gave some great tips, Brad.  I have to confess that field-dressing out an animal has never been something I felt confident about and your article helps.  Thanks.

October 14, 2011
12:54 pm
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shiveley
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I want a “how to” video version of this.

October 14, 2011
2:23 pm
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sknowskier
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I'm with Shiveley, I want a “how to video”

October 14, 2011
3:29 pm
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elkmuzzleloader
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Very good article.  I have always fumbled my way through this and been succesful at avoiding the internals.  My mom likes the liver of the animals so I always get it for her.  Last week when we did this I happened to cut the stomach while removing the liver long after the gutting had been over.  This was the worst smell I have ever smeled. 

Do more than what is expected of you.

October 14, 2011
5:57 pm
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sl-eye_noyes
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I third the how to video it would be great to see this done!Wink

October 14, 2011
6:26 pm
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colorado hunter
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sl-eye_noyes said:

I third the how to video it would be great to see this done!Wink


Just FYI – SW carries the Outdoor Edge series of game processing videos and many of Brad's tips are shown on this one:

 

http://www.outdooredge.com/Dee…..ingdvd.htm

 

I'm pretty sure these are almost always in stock – at least they have been every time I've been in the Colorado Springs store.

October 14, 2011
6:31 pm
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m gardner
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If I'm fortunate enough to catch up with one of the bucks I found during elk season with my 300 win mag I'll take the time to video the process in a few weeks. I've done a few and the instructions given above are sound advice for sure. If I get cut badly I'll work in tips for stopping bleeding too!

October 14, 2011
8:16 pm
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flattenedgravy

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The way that I leaned was by looking up YouTube videos.  I like this article, it would have helped a couple of years ago!  I think that field dressing and butchering is the hardest part of hunting…  but well worth it!

October 14, 2011
9:21 pm
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rwheelerii
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Good article. Had some good tips even for an old hack.

October 15, 2011
10:47 am
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yotebooter
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Great article and info that every hunter should review and review over again. I am blessed to have won the Outdoor Edge video series and I'll be watching and watching over and over the field dressing and field processing videos before my hunt this next week. I really like Brad's teaching style. Simple and easy to understand, but even more so he repeats the important basics over and over again. Monotonous? No, it drives home what works and keeps you focused on the basics of the process and teaches you WHY you do it the way he shows you. Like Mark, I hope to get some footage of me and a brand new hunter trying this out in the field. It might turn out to be a lesson in what NOT to do, but I think if we stick to the OE video instruction, we'll do well. Lord willing we'll fill the freezer.

October 15, 2011
12:17 pm
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m gardner
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Scott you'll do a fine job. I usually take a pair of fishing gloves or my kevlar and stainless seel gloves so I don't cut myself. I have some major disabilty in my arms and hands and on my bad days I'm dangerous with a knife. If I leave them behind I'm in trouble and hope I remembered the bandaids. Wink

October 15, 2011
3:30 pm
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paul
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Good article, I'm as bad at field dressing an animal as anyone so every time I get to read or watch a video on the proper way to do it I do, hoping some of it sticks. I'm not quite as challenged with a knife as you Mark, but I try to keep the bandaids handy too.

October 15, 2011
6:26 pm
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longwalker
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I found a great hand book. It not only shows how to save the meat, but the hide and bones for future use. It has a funny title too.

SO YOU HAVE A DEAD ANIMAL?

A Basic Guide to Processing Animals and Preserving Parts for Later Use

 

You can find it here.

http://www.paleotechnics.com/c…..r-SO-47857

October 15, 2011
6:28 pm
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scarlino
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Good article, now I hope I am successfully field dressing my buck this week.

November 18, 2011
6:02 pm
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scarlino
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I didn't get to field dress any animals this year, but maybee I will get some grey squirrels this year still.  Yum. 

November 19, 2011
10:40 am
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Tuffy
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 I'm an Old Geezer and have been field dressing deer since I was a little kid. Pretty much every week-end we'd have a deer or few to dress. We've ALWAYS started from the back and worked forward, and over the years there's been more than a few gut punctures. After reading this article, this Old Dog learned a new trick! It makes so much sense to go from the front to the back, that frankly I'm embarrassed that we never thought of this before.

 Save those Heart and Livers! MMM Good!

 Great article. Thanks!

November 27, 2011
8:58 pm
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I wish I would have known the easy way to gut an animal when my son and I shot our antelope!

November 28, 2011
2:49 pm
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i wanna know how to dress an animal with only a hatchet

November 28, 2011
8:38 pm
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jkgruet
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bomber said:

i wanna know how to dress an animal with only a hatchet


Be a man:  use just your bare hands!   😉
November 29, 2011
8:48 am
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powerlifter
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jkgruet said:

bomber said:

i wanna know how to dress an animal with only a hatchet


Be a man:  use just your bare hands!   😉

Ha Ha. This reminds me of my very first big game hunt, I was still in high school, and I got a deer the first morning. I would have loved to have had a hatchet! At least that would have kept me from the BUTCHER job I ended up doing. I didn't have a knife but I was hunting with my dad and he had one and was suposed to help if the need arose. Well, we got separated and I couldn't find him. I was running around the forest screaming like a wild kid for him to no avail. Prior to deer hunting, the only things I had field dressed were rabbits and dove and I could do those with just my hands. Well, as you know, I was just a kid not a man so I couldn't do it with just my hands. Even a hatchet would have ben better than nothing.

Finally I decided to go back to my dad's Jeep and wait for him. I climbed up to the ridge top to where I could see down the other side to where he had parked. No Jeep! About two miles away I saw the back end of the Jeep going around a bend in the road! My dad was either abandoning me or road hunting! I walked down to where he had been parked in the hopes he would come back someday. Eventually an old man drove up and I asked him if he had a knife. He said yes but it was too good to let me have it. He did have an old dull rusty butcher knife with bent blade behind the seat that I could use!

There you have it. I tried without success using my hands. I may have been able do do a hatchet job on it if I had one. I was able to do a BUTCHER job on it with a butcher knife. My dad finally came back, yes he was road hunting and got nothing, to help me drag it out.

Words of advice. Learn how to take care of yourself when out in the woods and having the correct equipment is better than road hunting.

Bob

November 29, 2011
9:25 am
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bomber

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jkgruet said:

bomber said:

i wanna know how to dress an animal with only a hatchet


Be a man:  use just your bare hands!   😉

well I do know how to dress a pheasant with my bare hands

December 7, 2011
5:56 pm
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THOR
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I have always wanted to learn how to field dress. For me, one of many things on my bucket list !    LOL !

December 7, 2011
9:51 pm
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flattenedgravy

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THOR said:

I have always wanted to learn how to field dress. For me, one of many things on my bucket list !    LOL !


Well… there's nothing quite like it!  And the only way to learn is to get your hands dirty… Good luck!   Laugh

December 7, 2011
11:22 pm
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jkgruet
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THOR said:

I have always wanted to learn how to field dress. For me, one of many things on my bucket list !    LOL !


I'm almost embarassed to admit it on this forum with such a high level of experience, but I used searches of Youtube to learn how to breast a dove and to breast or clean a duck.  I was able to do it on my own, first time, and even to show the gent taking me hunting a few tricks and ideas.

I'm already doing the same in anticipation of deer season next year, God willing.

December 8, 2011
11:55 am
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elkmuzzleloader
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Jk if you need help with the deer draw or any others you can contact me with any questions.  This year is going to be very different with all the new rule changes.

Do more than what is expected of you.

January 31, 2012
11:39 am
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jtillotson

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This was a very informative article and, like some of the other responders, I can't believe I haven't figured out starting the first cut below the brisket instead of at the pelvis.  Great tip even for veterans.  I've also seen the Swingblade and thought it was a great design even through I haven't added one to my day pack.  I guess I'm still in love with my classic Marbles Fieldcraft because of the edge it takes and holds.  I need to add a gut hook to my pack just for that first cut.

Several years ago a Canadian guide and outfitter friend taught me how to quarter an animal without opening the body cavity at all and I've never looked back.  1. It reduces the risk of getting body fluids on the meat when field dressing.  2. It gets your meat cooled quickly (make sure you always pack quality game bags to keep the meat clean in the field). and 3. It prepares the meat for transport out of the field and to home in manageable portions (we typically hunt areas where we have to pack harvested animals out without the aid of motorized vehicles).  I'll bet there are instructions out there and maybe even videos as for elk, moose and other very large game, I can't imagine a better way to handle the meat in the field.

Now I do this to any animal in the field, even antelope where I could drive up and load it whole if I wished.  In my humble opinion, the meat is better tasting because you don't risk body fluid contamination and you get the meat cooled quickly.  All of this improves the flavor and enjoyment of your hard work when it hits the dinner table. 

Has anyone else used this method of game care in the field?  Good Hunting to all!

February 2, 2012
7:57 pm
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Old Doe Shooter

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Heck, I'm still looking for “the eternal organs”. 

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