Field-Dressing and Skinning Big Game Animals

Don't waste perfectly good meat. If you want your hunting ventures to be productive, learn some of the basics of field dressing game animals.

| September/October 1984

It's hunting season again. Time for those who savor the flavor of venison, elk, and antelope roasts to attempt to lay in a supply of healthful, low-fat meat for the winter.

Each fall hundreds, perhaps thousands, of newly successful hunters are faced with the problem of how to handle a large meat animal once it's been reduced to possession. Because many of these nimrods lack the skills necessary to properly process their kills, a lot of meat is wasted, and even more is tainted — giving wild game an undeserved reputation of being "strong," "gamey," or "wild tasting."

So if you plan to head for field or woods this year as a meat hunter but have no experience in field dressing deer-size animals (and transporting and skinning too), read on as the author shares his 24 years of game-handling experience with you.

Keep in mind, too, that the information that follows isn't just for antelope, deer, and elk hunters. Similar techniques can be used to skin and dress midsize livestock such as goats and sheep, and thus can be valuable skills for any meat-eating homesteader to master.

The first factor to influence the flavor of an animal's meat comes into play with the squeeze of a trigger or the release of an arrow. Was it a clean, fast kill that dropped the game in its tracks, or a poor shot that required several arrows or bullets to finish off the wounded and terrified beast? In the latter case, expect subtle but nonetheless detectably unpleasant flavors from the adrenaline that was pumping through the animal's body those last few panicked minutes of life. And if a bullet or arrow penetrated organs other than heart, lungs, or brain, expect even worse. In short, if a hunter can't be sure of making a humane, killing shot, then he or she has no right to waste an animal's life for what may well turn out to be inedible, or at least inferior, meat.

But let's assume you won't take a shot unless you can be reasonably sure of killing cleanly. What else do you have to know?

Prehunt Preparation

Before you take to the woods, you'll need to collect the accoutrements necessary for field-dressing and transporting a large animal. If you know that you'll be able to haul your game out the same day it's killed, you can get by with just a sharp knife, a small whetstone, a plastic bag for liver and heart (assuming you enjoy such cuts), a foot or so of heavy string, and a few yards of rope. (If you're after elk, you'd best carry two knives — one small and sharp, the other large and sharp — plus a good sharpening stone.)

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