Field Care of Big Game

Yep...we all have to do it. Might as well do it right.

Field Dressing

Admittedly, the field-dressing chore is not the most enjoyable part of the hunt, but the extra time spent taking care of the meat will pay dividends at the table. Field dressing takes effort, so your heavy hunting coat should be removed and your sleeves rolled up so they wont be soiled. Disposable vinyl or latex gloves lessen the chances of passing infectious diseases and make hand cleaning easier.

Blood and digestive juices from organs possibly penetrated by the shot must be removed from the body cavity quickly, and the sooner the organs, which deteriorate rapidly, are removed, the faster the meat will cool. Field dressing also eliminates dragging unnecessary weight when moving the animal.

Before starting the field-dressing process, keep in mind that it is important to keep dirt and foreign objects away from the exposed body cavity. Removing the scent glands is not considered necessary, but is done with care by many hunters. Some archery hunters save the glands for use as scent while hunting. Removing the glands carelessly can taint the meat.

Roll the carcass over on its back with the rump lower than the shoulders and spread the hind legs. Make a cut along the centerline of belly from breastbone to base of tail. First cut through the hide, then through belly muscle. Avoid cutting into the paunch and intestines by holding them away from the knife with the free hand while guiding the knife with the other.

Unless the head will be mounted, the cut should pass through the sternum and extend up the neck to the chin to allow removal of as much of the windpipe as possible. The windpipe sours rapidly and is a leading cause of tainted meat.

With a small sharp knife, cut around the anus and draw it into the body cavity, so lt comes free with the complete intestines. In doing this, avoid cutting or breaking the bladder. Loosen and roll out the stomach and intestines. Save liver. Split the pelvic or "aitch" bone to hasten cooling.

Cut around the edge of the diaphragm, which separates the chest and stomach cavities, and split the breastbone. Then, reach forward to cut the windpipe and gullet ahead of the lungs. This should allow you to pull the lungs and heart from the chest cavity. Save heart. Drain excess blood from the body cavity by turning the body belly down or hanging animal head down. Prop the body cavity open with a stick to allow better air circulation and faster cooling

A clean cloth may be useful to clean your hands. If you puncture the entrails with a bullet or your knife, wipe the body cavity as clean as possible or flush with water and dry with a cloth. Don't use water to wash out the body cavity unless the paunch or intestines are badly shot up.

Part of the satisfaction of the hunt comes with making a clean kill and in doing a neat job of field dressing your animal. Veteran hunters may have variations in the steps of field dressing. The important points are to remove the internal organs immediately after the kill without contaminating the body cavity with dirt, hair, or contents of the digestive tract and to drain all excess blood from the body cavity.

All parts damaged by gunshot should be trimmed away. If the weather is warm of if the animal is to be left in the field for a day or more, it may be skinned, except for the head, and washed clean of dirt and hair. It should be placed in a shroud sack or wrapped with porous cloth to cool (cheesecloth is ideal). The cloth covering should be porous enough to allow air circulation but firmly woven enough to give good protection from insects and dirt. Lacking porous cloth, hunters often coat the inside of the body cavity with black pepper to repel insects. Adequate cooling may take six hours or more, depending on weather conditions.

The Trip Home

After the deer is checked and sealed, the head may be removed and the animal quartered for easy handling. A car top carrier is ideal to transport the kill home, or you may prefer to put it in the trunk. However, don't park in the sun or in a heated garage. Never tie the deer or antelope to the car where engine heat can cause deterioration. Warm meat spoils quickly.

Aging the Meat

Age the carcass in a cool, dry place. Aging of well cared for carcasses at correct temperatures yields better flavored, more tender meat. Best results are obtained in a near-constant temperature, preferably from 34 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit. Aging for one to two weeks is about right for the best quality venison, depending on the age and condition of the animal.

Aging the Meat

If the carcass is to be placed in freezer or locker plant storage, it may be more convenient to use the services of an experienced butcher for the cutting and wrapping. If the intent is to gain experience by doing the job yourself, cut according to the diagram shown.

The first step is to saw the carcass down the center of the backbone, dividing it into two sides. If the neck is to be used for a pot roast, it should be removed before the carcass is split. Place the sides of venison inside down on a table and cut according to the chart. Trim excess bone and gristle and further cut meat into family-size packages.

Reproduced with permission from Eric Stacy and his wife