It’s a crucial part of the hunting experience. You’ve learned everything you can, spent tons of money on your equipment, bought all the cool gadgets, and practiced your butt off. Then you get up at an unholy hour, trek out into the woods and climb your tree stand, spend hours sitting motionless in freezing temps, and you finally spot your quarry and land a killing shot. Now it’s time to field dress your trophy and you want to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible so you can get home, get warm, crack a cold one and grill some tasty backstraps, as Ted Nugent likes to say.
So how long does it take to field dress an animal? Well, it depends. Some hunters have it down to an art form. Let’s take a look at some of the considerations of field dressing different types of game and some techniques and tools you can use to accomplish the chore swiftly and efficiently.
A Note Of Caution
After you’ve successfully arrowed your quarry, don’t be in such a hurry to field dress it and drag it home that you run up to it or after it immediately. Allow at least 15 minutes to let the game lie down, bleed out, and stiffen up. Otherwise it might just jump up and disappear, and believe me an animal can run fast and far even with the most grievous wounds. I once shot a deer during gun season at about 50 yards a few hours before dusk. It seemingly dropped dead in its tracks so I decided to stay in my stand till time to leave. When I came down three hours later and walked over to dress it, foolishly leaving my gun leaning against the tree, that deer hopped up and skipped away. I never found it. Not one to learn a lesson the first time, the same thing happened with a turkey, though I did bag that tom after a prolonged struggle and numerous scratches and peck marks. But that’s another story.
Field Dressing Considerations
Field dressing is just what it sounds like, removing the entrails on the spot in the field. It involves making an incision up the belly from the anus up to the neck. Then the esophagus and the large and small intestines are severed and the internal organs are removed in one mass. The reasons for field dressing game are twofold. The primary reason is that you want to get the meat cooled down as quickly as possible, especially if the temperature is over say 50 degrees. The other reason is to lighten the load so you can more easily hump it out of the area.
The size of your game is obviously going to make a difference. It’s going to take longer to field dress a moose or an elk or a big bear than a smaller whitetail or hog. Once you’ve done it once or twice it goes fairly quickly, usually less than 30 minutes. Smaller game like birds, rabbits, and squirrels just take a few minutes, and a lot of people leave that job till they get home. If you’d like to harvest the liver or the heart you’ll have to separate those out, and it’s a good idea to bring some plastic bags to carry them in.
It’s an old adage that you should avoid puncturing the bladder as the urine will spoil the meat it touches. Whether this is true or not I can’t say, but I’m always careful about it. It’s also a good practice to use a stick to hold the carcass open to allow the meat to cool.
Tools For Field Dressing
Having good tools makes the job easier and quicker. A sharp knife is a must. One with a drop-point blade is useful to help you avoid cutting the intestines and bladder open while you’re making the incision, or you can use one with a gut hook on it. A small folding saw is useful for cutting through the pelvis and the rib cage, though if you’re careful you can easily cut through the cartilage between the ribs and the breastbone. After you’re done, a two-wheeled hand cart to carry it out of the field is a blessing.
With a little research, the right tools, and some practice you’ll soon be field dressing your game like a pro.
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