A Canadian hunting guide shares 5 tips for field-dressing big game

When you can’t use a vehicle to extract downed big game, dressing it on the spot and carrying out the meat on your back may be the only option. To make the job cleaner and easier—and to lighten the load—leave behind the ribcage, guts and bones. Here’s how it’s done.

#1 TOOLS

First, you need a quality hunting knife, along with a sharpener or replacement blades, latex gloves if desired. A bone saw can also come in handy if you need to move the last rib or two to retrieve the tenderloins. To transport and protect the meat, commercial antimicrobial game bags or cheese cloth work, but they can be expensive. A bed sheet or small tarp are more affordable options. When I know there are grizzlies in the area, however, I use clear, untreated, sealable plastic bags for packing and carrying the raw meat in my backpack to conceal the scent.

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#2 SKINNING

Begin by rolling the animal to one side. Make a shallow cut up the centre of the belly, then cut across the elbow of the front leg and the front of the knee of the hind leg (these are the legs that are off the ground). Now carefully peel the hide back to at least the centre line of the animal’s back. You’ll be leaving the stomach and other organs untouched inside the ribcage during this process.

Elk backstrap makes for precious cargo

#3 QUARTERING

Sever the hindquarter by lifting the leg upward and cutting along the underside of the hip joint. Work your way into the tendon where it meets the ball joint socket. Once that tendon is cut, the entire quarter will flop over and you can make the final incisions to peel it away from the pelvis bone. To now remove the front quarter, lift the front leg and make your cut underneath where the leg joins the torso against the lower portion of the brisket and ribcage. Then make your incisions along the visible seam until the quarter can be easily pulled away. To eliminate unnecessary weight with each quarter, cut out and discard the bones.

#4 CHOICE CUTS

First, remove the backstraps. These fine strips of meat can be easily removed by making cuts along both sides of the length of the spine and ribcage, from the pelvis toward the shoulder. Next, carefully remove the tenderloins located in front of the pelvis and connected to the spine. Start cutting under and just past the last rib and continue to the pelvis bone, being careful not to puncture the stomach. Most often, the tenderloin is so fine it can be mostly separated by hand.

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#5 ROLL AND REPEAT

Finally, cut away any other useable meat along the neck and ribs, then roll the animal over and repeat these steps on the other side.