FIELD DRESSING AND THE CARE OF GAME
Ethical and responsible hunter’s:
- Know the laws and use legal and ethical methods of hunting.
- Never waste game and properly care for game meat.
- Tag and check in game if required.
THE HUNT: ONE SHOT HARVESTS
The hunter is responsible for proper care and use of a harvested game animal. Proper care starts with the first shot. Responsible hunters strive for clean, one-shot harvests. While this is not always possible, responsible hunters always follows their game and if needed, dispatches it quickly.
How you hunt an animal and how you immediately care for it affects the taste of the meat. An animal that is shot while resting will not have a gamey taste while an animal that is chased for a distance will secrete waste products into the muscles that affect the taste of the meat.
AFTER THE HARVEST
Once a deer, elk, antelope, bear or turkey has been harvested, you must tag it immediately with name, license number, date and time of harvest. You should also make sure that evidence of sex and species of animal is clearly attached and evident. Game wardens will want to know the species and sex of both birds and animals that you shoot.
Once you’ve tagged the animal, you need to do two things quickly to prevent the meat from spoiling – field dress it and cool the meat.
Field dressing is simply removing the entrails. It prevents the meat from absorbing waste products from the body cavity organs. Three environmental factors affect the taste of your meat: temperature, dirt and moisture. Meat that has been kept cool, dry and clean tastes better than meat that has been allowed to get warm, wet and tainted with dirt.
CARE OF THE CARCASS
Meat should be kept cool by:
- Keeping it in the shade.
- Keeping it in moving air or a breeze.
- Hanging it from a tree or post.
Never transport carcasses of large animals on the hood of a vehicle. The heat will spoil the meat. Hunters need support from the public. An animal’s carcass in plain view can offend non-hunters. Cover it with canvas or place it in a closed area inside the vehicle. Always be responsible and thoughtful of the opinions of others.
Meat should be kept dry by:
- Immediate field dressing.
- Wiping off excess blood or fluids.
Meat should be kept clean by:
- Not allowing meat to be drug through dirt.
- Covering with a cheesecloth.
- Field Dressing
Field dress wildlife immediately. The extra time spent taking care of the meat will pay off when it comes time to make a meal from that meat. Field dressing can be messy so remove any heavy coats and roll up your sleeves.
Disposable vinyl or latex gloves lessen the chances of catching 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. Organs deteriorate rapidly so remove them quickly. The faster they are removed, the faster the meat will cool and the better it will be preserved. Field dressing will eliminate quite a bit of weight so it is better to field dress the animal before you transport it.
Remember 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 if you wish to do so, be careful as they can taint the meat if broken or smeared on the carcass.
BASIC FIELD DRESSING TOOLS
Perhaps the most important tools you can carry for field dressing are a sharp knife and a good sharpener. These will be the primary implements you use for skinning and cleaning carcasses. Other tools you might include in your field dressing bag are:
- A small axe or saw for cutting through bone.
- Rope for tying the carcass together or dragging it.
- Latex or rubber gloves.
STEPS IN FIELD DRESSING
Roll the deer carcass over on its back with the rump lower than the shoulders and spread the hind legs. Make a cut along the center line 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 deer 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.
With a small sharp knife, cut around the anus and draw it into the body cavity, so it comes free with the complete intestines. In doing this, avoid cutting or breaking the bladder. Loosen and roll out the stomach and intestines. Split the pelvic 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. 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 damaged.
Part of the satisfaction of the hunt comes with making a clean kill and in doing a neat job of field dressing your deer. Veteran hunters may have variations in the steps of field dressing. The important points are to remove the internal organs immediately 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 or if the deer 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. Adequate cooling may take six hours or more, depending on weather conditions.
AGING THE MEAT
Age the deer carcass in a cool, dry place. Aging of a well cared for carcass 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. Since it is rarely that cold in Oklahoma, hunters should not age their carcasses outside.
Aging for one to two weeks is about right for the best quality venison, depending on the age and condition of the animal.
DISPOSAL OF ENTRAILS AND CARCASSES
The Oklahoma carcass disposal regulations are: No person may dump the carcass of any dead animal in any well, spring, pond or stream of water or leave it within 1/4 mile of any occupied dwelling or public highway without burying the carcass in an appropriate manner where it is not liable to become exposed through erosion of the soil or where such land is subject to overflow.
Other states may have different laws about how you should dispose of the unused parts of a game animal. Never leave the waste remains out where other people may see them. Remember that the land you hunt is often used for other purposes. Many people will be offended if they find the unused parts of a game animal.
Careless behaviors such as this can result in poor public opinion of hunting and end up damaging the sport and hurting your opportunities to participate in the future. Be aware of your actions; how they affect others and how they affect the sport.
APPRECIATE THE GIFT!
Never forget to appreciate the gift! Hunting an animal is a great privilege that can be immensely rewarding.
A responsible hunter never forgets to give back when opportunities rise.
Information provided courtesy of the Outdoor Nebraska and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Hunter Education Manual.