Hunting is one of the most humane ways to put healthy meat on your table. However, it often isn’t seen that way due, in part, to the dirty work of cleaning or processing your kill.
For small game like—rabbit and squirrel—and many bird species, this is something you should do yourself. Small game is easy to clean and prepare for the dinner table on your own. Large game, on the other hand, takes a lot more work.
Many people hire out the messy task of processing while others wouldn’t dare. Here’s a look at whether or not you should and what’s involved in either choice.
You’ll Always have to Field Dress Your Kill
Field dressing is a must whether or not you take your kill to a processing plant or do it yourself. This is the act of removing the internal organs of the hunted game from the body.
It’s important to do this as soon as possible. It helps the carcass cool quickly so bacteria doesn’t grow and spoil the meat. Do it in the field right after the animal dies. Removing the internal organs from the carcass also removes a lot of weight, making it easier to get your kill out of the hunting area.
All you need to get this done is a very sharp, sturdy knife of reasonable size. Some hunters use axes or saws to help complete the field dressing process, but neither is necessary.
Field Dressing a Deer
Here’s a look at field dressing a deer. There are many different ways to do it, and different hunters have different techniques and tips they use.
- Place the animal on its back.
- Use a clean and sharp knife to cut along the midline from the pelvis to the breastbone. You can cut the cartilage attaching the ribs to the breastbone if needed to make removing organs easier.
- Remove the genitals (male) or mammary glands (female). If male, leave the scrotum for sex identification (some states require this).
- Cut around the anus and tie off the intestines so there’s no leakage.
- Cut the membrane and diaphragm inside the body cavity holding the organs in place. Be careful not to puncture any internal organs.
- Cut the esophagus and windpipe as far up to the head as possible.
- Pull all entrails out of the carcass.
- Remove excess tissue from the body cavity.
From there, you’ll need to hang the body to let the excess blood drain out and to tenderize the meat. If it’s cold enough, you can leave the deer to hang for a couple of days (some hunters and meat processors recommend longer). If it’s above 40 degrees, you can either take it to a meat processor or quarter your kill and put it in the refrigerator.
Doing It Yourself
If you’re processing your kill yourself after you field dress it, you need to skin it, quarter it, and then process the different cuts of meat. Some people like to debone the meat entirely, while others prefer some bone-in cuts.
Regardless, processing the meat yourself requires more knowledge than a simple field dressing. You also need to have the right knives, equipment, and space to get the job done. The knowledge and skills required aren’t too difficult to learn, but things will go a heck of a lot easier if you employ the help of a fellow hunter, especially if you’ve never done it before.
In terms of space, you need to have a clean working environment. If you have a tidy garage with a sink and floor drain handy, you have all you need. If your garage packed full of junk, dust, and grime, think again. Cleanliness is important, and you need to have a work area that won’t contaminate the meat.
Many hunters feel that processing the meat is a huge part of the hunting experience, and they don’t want to rob themselves of that experience. If the details above sound like something you can handle, then doing things yourself is a smart way to go. You’ll save money and learn new skills and knowledge.
However, if you don’t have the equipment or the space to process the meat, taking it to a processor is the way to go.
Going to the Processing Facility
Even hunters who usually do their own processing may come across a situation where they need a processor for their kill.
For example, a hunter on a trip in another state or far from their home base may be unable to bring the necessary tools or lack the time and space to properly butcher their kill. That’s where the professional processing facilities come into play.
These facilities will take your field-dressed game and return it to you as neatly packaged meat for your refrigerator or freezer.
Find the Right Facility
It’s important to know that not all of these places are the same. You need to do research and find a quality processing plant for your kill. Don’t trust your meat to just anyone.
Talk with your hunting buddies to see who they’ve used and would recommend in the past. Go and visit a few places to get prices and details on their service. While there, take note of the cleanliness of the space, product selection, size of the facility, and how busy it looks.
Cleanliness is the most important. You want your meat processed in a clean facility or you risk some kind of contamination. If it stinks to high heavens in the processing plant, go somewhere else. A butcher shop or meat processing facility shouldn’t smell terrible.
Also, check online reviews to see if the facility has anyone complaining of long wait times or a mix up with their order. Those could be red flags that something’s off. Do your due diligence and find a quality facility.
Working with the Processor
Find a place to take your kill well before you actually need it. If you just killed an animal, it’s too late to start your research. You should have a place in mind and talk to them about how they want the carcass brought in well in advance.
Some locations require a simple field dressing. Some want the animal skinned and further prepped before you bring it in. Talk with an employee of the facility before you bring them your business.
You also need to know how you want your meat returned to you. The processor can give you meat in a variety of ways. If you don’t know what cuts you want, discuss your options with them. A good processor will be happy to talk you through the options.
Once your kill is in the capable hands of the processor, you’ll pay a deposit. Then you wait for the job to be completed. When you come in to pick it up, bring a cooler, have freezer space available at home, and be ready for a fantastic meal.
Will you process you kill yourself or take it to a processing facility this year? Leave a comment below.