Field dressing means to remove the entrails from the body cavity of a downed game animal and is the best way to cool down a game animal in the field. When field dressing any animal, avoid cutting through the bladder, intestines or stomach area, as urine and other sources of bacteria can cause contamination to the meat. Also be careful with your knives: a good field-dressing knife is very sharp.
To field dress big game, such as deer, make a cut in the skin that starts just above the anus and goes right up to the base of the animal's jaw. This cut will allow you to remove the internal organs from the body cavity. Once the initial cut is made, take your time cutting the entrails from the backbone. When properly done, the entrails will come out as one large mass.
Most big game animals have scent glands on their hind legs. The glands excrete a penetrating odor or musk. Avoid touching exposed meat if you touch these areas of the animal. Leave the glands on and skin them off when you skin the entire hide later on.
Field dressing small game is similar to big game. Make the initial cut from above the anus right to the breastbone. With one hand holding the animal, use your free hand to take out the internal organs from the body cavity. After the animal is field dressed, allow the meat to cool in a well-ventilated area.
Field dressing a game bird requires a different first step. Before making the initial cut, pluck the feathers from the bird's belly to expose the skin. Then make the cut below the breastbone and pull out the internal organs with your hands. Once the bird is field dressed, allow the meat to cool in a well-ventilated area. When you return to camp, hang the game animal from a tree or a specially designed rack. Hanging allows the air to circulate, cooling the meat more quickly and also helps you to skin the animal. The best place to hang the game animal is a shed or refrigerator box which is kept at an optimum temperature. If the game animal will be hung outside, wrap the animal in a game bag or cheese cloth to keep insects from landing on the meat.
Dispose of the entrails in a way that will not offend others. Place them in a shallow depression and cover with leaves, or put in a trash bag for later disposal. Once the animal is skinned, wash any dirt or blood from the meat. Next, dry the meat with paper towels or clean, dry rags. Let it air dry thoroughly. If a game animal is quartered, the meat can be placed in waterproof bags and placed in ice coolers. During hunting seasons, there are butchers that will skin and process game animals for you; all you need to do is field dress and transport it to their premises.
Make sure you wear some type of latex or rubber gloves when handling a downed game animal. This not only keeps your hands cleaner, but also protects you from getting scratched and helps reduce the risk of contracting infections. Although unlikely, there is always a chance of harvesting a diseased animal. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), Lyme disease, and rabies are three examples of infections that can potentially be transmitted to humans from a downed animal. Avoid harvesting an animal that appears sick. When field dressing, skinning or quartering the animal, do not cut through bones, brain tissue or the spinal cord. Always wash your hands and any instrument used for field dressing.
When transporting a game animal, place it in the back of a truck or on a vehicle rack with a cover; this will protect it from dirt and debris. Do not strap the game animal to the hood of a vehicle. Not only is it offensive to others and disrespectful to the game animal, the heat from the vehicle's engine will spoil the meat.
Important! Always follow local regulations for tagging, field dressing and transporting game animals.