QUARTERING, SKINNING , AND FIELD DRESSING BIG GAME QUICKLY AND EASILY
The better you take care of your wild game meat in the field, the better it will taste on your dinner table. Clean and proper field care and quick cooling of wild game is crucial to preventing spoilage and souring of great tasting and healthy wild game meat.
Lots of big game hunters have a tendency to make quartering, skinning, and field dressing of big game much more difficult a process than it has to be. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way ever again. No more gutting, getting blood up to your neck and armpits, sawing, winching or wrestling with awkward and heavy big game. No more struggling and straining trying to hang up big game just to get it skinned. By following these easy steps you can quickly skin, quarter, and pack out the largest of big game animals out of the field with ease, even if you are all by yourself!
After many years of trial and error I finally settled in on a process that lets me quickly field dress big game animals with zero wasting of meat and zero mess either. There is no gutting involved and I can take apart an entire bull elk, tenderloins included, and not get any blood on me past my wrists. You can easily do this entire process using only one skinning knife! So get your knife and game bags ready and here’s how I go about it:
The first thing I do in my big game field dressing process is to arrange the trophy big game animal so that it is on as flat a surface as possible and place it in a bedded down position with the belly on the ground, legs tucked to its side for stability, neck fully stretched out, and the head resting on the ground with the jaw flat on the ground and both antlers or ears sticking straight up.
My first cut will begin by vertically inserting my skinning knife just under the hide about 2 inches behind the ears and right inline with the animals spine. With the sharp part of the blade facing the tail, I will now make a straight cut down towards the animals tail staying vertically in line with the middle of the spine as if you were going to split its entire skin into 2 equal halves. Cutting down from the head to the tail lets you go with the grain of the big game animals hair and not fight against it.
Upon reaching the tail I will cut the hide right in front of the hip on both sides of the animal and cut down just under the hide toward the bottom of the belly being careful that I don’t puncture the abdomen as I make my downward cuts on each side.
Now you can start skinning the hide down on both sides from the spine towards the ground starting from the hips all the way to the back of the head where you made your initial cut. When you are skinning the hide down make sure that the hide that begins to lay on the ground is hair side down to keep the cape clean on the inside.
Once you have the hide skinned down to the ground from the hips to the back of the head on both sides I remove both backstraps by vertically cutting with my skinning knife deeply and tight alongside the middle of the spine on both sides starting from the back of the scapula, or shoulder blade, to the hip. Then I cut horizontally across the top of the ribs following the bottom contour of the backstrap from the back of the scapula to the hip and the backstrap will neatly come off in one big slab. Put the backstraps into game bags and on a clean surface and you are ready for the next step.
Once the backstraps are off the neck meat is going to be the next item that I remove. Start at the back of the big game animals head and cut tight along the middle of the spine with your skinning knife on both sides working your way down to the bottom of the neck and towards the brisket. Just like when you were peeling the hide down from the spine, peel the meat down on both sides all the way to the brisket and the neck meat will come neatly off in 2 big slabs. Same thing, into the game bags they go.
Now that all the meat from the neck is off you can loosen up both of the front quarters. Grab the top of the scapula and pull it towards you away from the carcass. Begin cutting downwards against the spine and rib cage directly behind the scapula and work you way all the way down to the leg and elbow on both sides. Both front quarters will now be totally loose for easy removal a little bit later.
On to the getting the hindquarters loosened up. Don’t skin the hide down on the hindquarters. Leave the hide on until you get the hindquarter off the carcass and into a game bag to help keep the hindquarter meat clean. Start by vertically inserting your skinning knife tight alongside the spine just behind the hip bone on both sides of the big game animal and cut down along the side of the spine on both sides all the way to the anus. Work your cut downward on both sides until you reach the round hip socket and pop it loose with your skinning knife. Now both the hindquarters are loosened up for removal in just a little bit
Now you are ready to turn the big game animal over on its side. Start by pulling the hide all the way back up to the top of the spine on the side that you intend to lay down to keep the meat clean. Roll the animal onto its side and begin skinning the hide from in front of the hip to the back of the head down towards the belly as if you were trying to reach the other side of the animal by going under its belly and work your way skinning towards the front leg quarter. Again, pay attention that the hide you are skinning lays hair side down to keep the cape clean.
When you get to the front quarter grab the front leg and make a cut through the hide with your skinning knife all the way around the leg in the middle of the biggest part of the knee. Now skin the hide down from the loosened front quarter toward the cut you have made at the knee just like if you were pulling your leg out of a sock. Upon reaching your cut at the knee just pull the front quarter straight up in the air and the entire leg will slide right through and your front quarter is free from the carcass.
Place the quarter into the game bag with the hoof pointing up out of the game bag. You can now remove the lower part of the front leg by cutting through the middle of the knee joint with your knife or you can keep the lower leg intact to help serve as a handle if you need to pack it out. Lay the bagged quarter down on a large rock or a log or some clean grass to keep any dirt away from the meat and game bag.
Now the hindquarter. Grab the hind leg and place it on top of your shoulder while you are in a kneeling position facing the carcass and the abdomen of the animal. This will keep the hind leg propped up in the air and leaves both of your hands free to work. Insert your knife into the cut you made from the top and cut deeply along the top side the anus in toward the hip joint while staying along the topside of the penis of the animal. Cut your way to the crotch and then cut upwards towards the spine until you reach the hip socket. The socket should now easily pop free. Cut the meat away from the socket towards the abdomen and be careful not to puncture the stomach. Now cut the hide from the crotch up towards the hip and spine and the hindquarter will swing free from the carcass. Place the quarter on a clean rock, log, or grass, skin the hide off of the hindquarter, and place it into a game bag with the hoof sticking up in the air out of the game bag.
Now for the tenderloins. Gently cut away the membrane right below the hip that attaches the abdomen to the backbone. Be really careful here and do not cut open the paunch! Once the membrane is cut push downward on the abdomen to expose and see the tenderloins which are located up against the inside of the spine just in front of the hips. You can now easily cut away the tenderloins from the spine while pushing the abdomen down and out of your way.
After getting the tenderloin out start cutting and trimming away all the meat from in between the ribs and along the brisket to ensure that the carcass will not have any edible meat left on it whatsoever on that side. Place all the trimmings and rib meat in a separate game bag. You can even cut a rib loose and remove the heart and liver if so desired.
Now that this side is completely finished, pull all of the hide back up to the top of the spine, roll the animal over to the opposite side, and repeat the entire process. Once you have the other side finished, all that’s left is the head.
You are now left with a bare carcass, the entrails, and the head and cape. To remove the head find the back of the skull where the the first vertebrae connects to the head. Stick your knife down into the joint and twist back and forth to loosen it up. Then cut all the way around and under the joint and the connecting tissue. This will loosen the head up enough so that you can easily twist the entire head and cape free from the spine with a couple rotations.
You are now done. All that’s left to do is load him up in the truck or start lashing the quarters to your pack frames for the hike out. With a little experience you can field dress and quarter an entire bull elk by yourself in around 30 minutes using this method.
Give this field dressing and quartering method a try on your next trophy big game hunt. You’ll be amazed at how clean, easy, and fast it can be to neatly quarter and field dress big game animals even if you are by yourself. Print this page out and laminate it to keep in your hunting camps for future reference. Good luck this fall….
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