If you are brand new to hunting or have only been a few times, there are a lot of terms, techniques, and procedures you will eventually learn.
However, before you venture out into the woods, one term you need to understand is field dressing.
What is field dressing?
Field dressing is the process of removing an animal’s internal organs on site (aka in the field). For small game, this is a fairly simple, quick task. However, more work and tools are required for larger game.
For first time hunters, do not go hunting and harvest game unless you are prepared to care for it. This tactic isn't clean and is far from pretty, but it is necessary.
All harvested game should be field dressed. This includes:
Large game like deer, elk, and moose
Small game like rabbit and squirrel
Game birds like dove, pheasant, waterfowl, and turkey
And fish (usually referred to as “gutting”)
Why is field dressing important?
Field dressing is necessary for three major reasons:
Prevent surface bacteria from growing
Ensure rapid loss of body heat
Improve the overall quality of the meat
Primarily, field dressing ensures that the meat doesn’t spoil due to the growth of bacteria. Bacteria can grow due to a combination of dirt, moisture, and heat. Heat is the number one concern when preserving game meat. The longer you wait to field dress, the higher the internal body temperature will get. Removing the organs will allow the meat to cool before it is processed. Meat begins to spoil above 40° Fahrenheit, so it’s best to care for your game immediately.
There are many different field dressing methods for different types of game. For small game, birds, and fish, field dressing quickly turns into harvesting the meat, so the process is pretty quick and easy. Therefore, you’ll commonly hear field dressing in reference to large game like deer, elk, and moose.
Field dressing is especially important for large game as it makes them much lighter and easier to transport out of the woods. If you’re curious about the process itself, check out this video on How to Field Dress a Deer from Wide Open Spaces.
After field dressing, it’s important that you properly dispose of the remains. Most hunters recommend burying the internal organs a minimum of 2-3 feet underground so other animals can't get to them. If you are hunting on private property, the owner may have a designated disposal pit far away from residents. Some landfills that are license to accept animal carcasses may also dispose of the remains. Whatever you do, do not leave remains near a road, body of water, or civilization.
The hunt is only a small part of the experience. Caring for your harvested game takes time and hard work, but hunters will agree it is well worth it. Here are some of your options once field dressing is complete:
Skin It This process can be done by yourself or with the assistance of a processor. If you are doing the work yourself, skip down to “Process It."
Skinning your game is not only essential, it also cools the meat faster. To do this, you'll need a few good knives (a field dressing knife will do the trick) and a gambrel on a meat pole to hang it. This video by Realtree shows you the most common way to skin a deer.
Process It If you decide to do the work yourself, you’ll have to skin the animal and quarter it before processing the meat. To do this you'll need:
Processing meat yourself can be a lot of work. If this isn't for you, consider taking it to a processor. They'll also skin your game - one stop shop. By taking it to a processor, they'll present you with a plethora of options of your choice of meat cuts, jerky, snack sticks, and so on, to enjoy.
Cook It With your variety of meat cuts, the only thing left to do is figure out different ways to prepare it. Wild game recipes are not an uncommon thing. Navigate through your search engine online and see just how many recipes you can gather for that next meal. Our weekly Friday Feast posts always has something new and inventive to share!
Depending on the size game you've harvested, you'll more than likely need to freeze a bulk of it. In doing so, make sure to use freezer safe bags with a durable seal or consider vacuum sealing. No one likes freezer burned venison. Donate it If you've had a successful hunting season with no room left in your freezer or simply just want to help others in need, consider donating to Hunters for the Hungry. This program accepts game meat and distributes to those in need across the country.
Preserve It Hunting is an experience to be remembered and a vast majority of hunters want to preserve that memory. If you decide to do this, check out these some taxidermy tips to consider prior to field dressing your game.
There is a lot involved and things to consider after a hunt. As a beginner, there are many guides and videos you can check out online as well as resources on your state’s DNR website. However, the best way to learn and learn correctly is by going out into the field with a skilled hunter who can show you the ropes and guide you through the experience.