Once you properly tag the animal, you need to field dress and cool the meat immediately. This involves removing the entrails and internal organs. Opening the body cavity also allows the meat to cool and helps prevent spoilage. The meat must be kept cool, dry, and clean; heat, dirt and moisture can cause meat to spoil or taste bad.
If you have never field dressed an animal before, it might be a little intimidating the first time. The best way to learn is to have an experienced hunter show you how. There will be blood, and sometimes the body content doesn’t smell very good. Remember, this is all a part of hunting.
Be careful when field dressing. It is easy to get cut with a knife or a sharp bone end.
Field Dressing Precautions
Heat is a real problem since bacteria grow rapidly in a carcass. Animals need to be cooled off as quickly as possible and kept cool. This can be difficult in warm weather. Don’t cram your birds or small animals together in a hot game pouch or throw them in a pile. Leave them out where the air can circulate and cool them. Don’t leave them in a car trunk when it’s warm outside. Take them home right away, and put them some place cool. Also, don’t leave large animals lying on the snow. Snow tends to insulate, rather than cool, the carcass. The meat cools more quickly if the animal is skinned right away, hung up off the ground out of direct sunlight, and covered with a game bag or cloth. Keep the animal as clean as possible. Dirt can also ruin the meat of game animals.
Disease is not common in free-ranging wildlife populations. However, hunters should take precautions to prevent any unnecessary contact with infected animals.
- Wear rubber or latex gloves when handling the animal.
- Do not cut internal organs, spinal cord, or bones when opening the body cavity or removing the entrails.
- Stay informed about wildlife disease issues in your hunting area, and know how to tell whether an animal is infected.
- Contact your local Fish, Wildlife & Parks office to report any animal that appears sick.
In most cases, wildlife diseases do not affect people. However, there are a few exceptions. Rabies epidemics are uncommon, but are a serious concern. Tularemia, occasionally found in rabbits, beavers, and other animals, is another health concern. One animal disease that has captured a lot of attention lately is Chronic Wasting Disease or CWD. There is no evidence that CWD can spread from game animals to humans, but cautious hunters will want to learn more about it.
Field Dressing Equipment
Most birds and game animals can be field dressed with a normal, sharp hunting knife with a 21⁄2- to 4-inch blade. Bring a sharpening steel to sharpen your knife while you are working. Field dressing larger animals might require a game saw or axe to split bones. If you want to keep the heart and liver to eat, use plastic bags to carry them home. For large animals that must be skinned and quartered in the field, you need cheesecloth game bags to hang meat and protect it from flies. You might also want to carry some paper towels to wipe out the body cavity and clean yourself. Remember not to litter!