After a successful hunt, how you handle the game has a huge impact on meat quality. Although field dressing is barely the favorite part of a successful hunting expedition, it’s certainly critical. It refers to the removal of the animal’s internal organs or entrails to preserve the meat. Field dressing helps the carcass cool quickly, thus preventing the growth of bacteria. Blood from the carcass is expelled during the field dressing process. Whether you are a novice or a veteran at field dressing, following the instructions laid down will ensure your game cools quickly, and it stays clean and fresh.
Temperature control during field dressing
Bacteria in your carcass grows quite rapidly, especially if it stays warm. The ideal temperatures for rapid bacteria growth are 40ºF – 140ºF. Although temperature below 40ºF does not kill the bacteria, it slows their growth. If you handle, prepare, and preserve your game meet at 0ºF, it could last for about a year.
Note: Wild game can transmit certain diseases to humans. Wash your hands thoroughly with water and soap. Always handle the carcass using latex gloves.
Field dressing instructions
- Prop the animal on its back with its head elevated. Using a sharp knife, cut the skin around the anus, taking care not to puncture the rectum. The aim is to free up your game’s entrails through the pelvis. It would be a good idea to tie the anus off with a string to prevent the entrails from soiling your meat as you pull them out.
- Remove the genitals unless the law in your area requires that you leave them there to prove gender.
- Beginning at the pelvis, open up the game’s belly to the ribcage if you want to mount your game. Once you begin the incision, use two fingers to form a “V” on either side of the knife blade. This helps guide the knife so that you only cut the skin membrane and avoid puncturing the membrane. This incision should be made with the knife’s blade facing upwards.
- Cut loose the sheet of muscle which separates the chest cavity from the stomach. Reach inside the ribcage and sever the esophagus and windpipe as far up as you can go.
- Pull out all the internal organs
- Clean out any excess tissue. If parts of the flesh have been soiled by the entrails, clean it with water. You can prop the carcass open using sticks to quicken the cooling process. If there is a tree nearby, hang the game by its head for 20 to 30 minutes. If you plan to mount your game, hang it by the rear legs using a gambrel to spread them. Hanging your game allows the blood to drain out of its body cavity. If there’s no nearby tree, turn the game over so that the opened cavity is against the ground. Try to keep the game free of contamination from leaves, sticks, dirt, and other debris.
Tip: If you plan on mounting your game, avoid extending the incision above the ribcage.
Depending on the local regulations, you will need to tag your game or report the kill. This is a requirement even before you move the game. By neglecting this, you are risking a heavy fine.
Removing your game from the field
Dragging your game by pulling it by dragging it on its front legs is usually acceptable for short distances. For moderate drags, you might want to tie its front legs together using a rope to drag it. Avoid dragging your game by the neck, especially if you want it to undergo the taxidermy process. For long distances, you might want to place your game on a sled, poles, stretchers, a wheelbarrow, or a cart.
Tip: If you are hunting in a remote area where you cannot freeze your game, fully skinning the animal and salting its hide is the only way of preserving its hide for mounting. You can also skin your game on-site if you are not able to drag it home immediately.
Skinning your game
You will need to skin your game within the first two hours of capture while it is still warm. You can begin skinning as your game is draining by following the steps below:
- Make an incision on the inside of each leg towards the middle of the carcass
- Cut around the neck as close to the head as possible (or as far as possible if you are planning on mounting it)
- Grab the skin at the back of the head and using both of your hands, pull down hard
- Use a sharp knife to work the skin the legs and any other spots that are left stuck
Capping the game is best left to a taxidermist as they have the necessary experience on how to handle the ears, nose, mouth, and eyes.
Small animals that are the size of a coyote or smaller should only be skinned by a professional. This is because such animals usually have very thin skin. If you cannot present your small game to a taxidermist immediately, place the carcass in a plastic bag as soon as it cools off then freeze it. Beware of such diseases as tularemia and rabies that can be transmitted through cuts or abrasions on your skin.
Avoid gutting the bird. Rather, rinse off any blood from the feathers. If you do not have a taxidermist nearby, preserve your game in an ice chest. Carefully place the bird in a plastic bag before freezing it. If the tail does not fit into the plastic bag, place them in a way that they stick out of the bag rather than bending them.
Once you catch the fish, you can store them in a live well or stringers as long as there is enough water and they can move about. Storing them this way would be ideal as their natural color is preserved for the schedule taxidermy process. If you wish to take it to a taxidermist later, wrap it using a wet towel and make sure the fins lay flat against its body. This helps prevent breakage. Put it in a plastic bag and freeze it. Frozen fish can be stored for months. As the fish will lose its color shortly after you catch it, take a good photo which the taxidermist will use to duplicate the color tones of your catch. If you are hunting without a freezer and a nearby taxidermist, learn the techniques of skinning out the whole cape salting the hide.
Always make sure you present appropriately tagged game to your taxidermist. Keep in mind that hawks, owls, songbirds, and eagles are protected by federal law. As such, you cannot mount them unless you have a federal permit.