As winter approaches and people desire more self-reliance, the hobby of hunting has become wildly popular. Because of that, there are two main methods of field dressing an animal, and here are the pros and cons.
First off, just to give you all an idea of how we approach hunting, I’ll give you a sort of disclaimer. I am not a hunter and I do not pretend to be. However, my husband is a very experienced hunter but he does NOT participate in trophy hunting at all. If he hunts an animal, it is used for meat. We have saved skulls and antlers ourselves, but that is not the goal when hunting for us. We use as much of the animal as we can and even save the gristly chewy hocks to make into food for our cats and dogs. I do not hunt because I do not enjoy the actual killing of the animal, however, I participate in all aspects of helping prepare it for storage.
We also teach our children where meat comes from and how we get it. We have them say “thanks” to the animal, and we thank the animal for giving its life so we can sustain ours. We thank the animal as we process it and we thank the animal at every meal. And while that may seem cliche and nutty to some, it helps us keep in balance with nature and know that we are not killing something just for the sake of killing it. We are truly grateful to each and every animal that my husband has hunted.
Second, here are a few tips for hunters before we dive into the pros and cons of the different field dressing methods. These are the top three winter hunting tips from my husband himself:
- TIP# 1 – Keep your feet dry! Nothing can feel worse than wet feet in the winter. You will want to wear high-quality socks and boots designed specifically for the weather and terrain you could be hunting in that day.
- TIP# 2 – Always bring a sharp knife and a knife sharpener with you! If there’s a chance you could lose either, bring spares. Nothing is worse than being unable to finish harvesting your meat because your knife isn’t sharp enough for the job. My husband uses custom knives made by my father to skin animals and harvest the meat, so I am unable to provide suggestions here. But any high-quality skinning knife will do the trick, it is the same with the sharpener.
- TIP #3 – Do not forget to bring meat bags with you! This will not only help keep your meat sanitary, but they often provide some friction that slick fresh meat doesn’t, and make the meat easier to carry.
When we are talking about field dressing or quartering, we are talking about having to break the animal down in order to get the meat transported back to your home for the final breakdown. This is almost always the case with larger game, such as elk and moose, but because of distance and topography, it also happens with smaller animals like antelope. Breaking down an animal into pieces that can be hauled out on your back is generally referred to as quartering and there are different ways to go about this process.
Now onto the different field dressing or quartering methods. The two main ones are the gutless method and the gutting and quartering method.
The gutless method is when you leave all of the animal’s organs in the body cavity and remove the quarters, or legs at the joints (hips and shoulders). This method involves skinning the animal first, then taking the quarters.
Gutting and quartering involve first gutting the carcass then cutting it into four quarters. When one quarter a gutted animal, they separate the carcass into sections by splitting the animal lengthwise down the spine from the neck to the rear and then sawing those halves through the rib cage to create four quarters. These large quarters, along with any of the internal organs you choose to harvest, are then packed out.
There are pros and cons to both and ultimately, you will have to decide for yourself which method is preferable for you in your situation. We are all different and what I see as a pro could be a con for you. Experience will play a role in your decision too and it could change over time as you hunt more often, or you may find yourself using both methods depending on the situation you find yourself in after taking the animal. If you have a large animal in bear country, you may consider the gutless method just to save time and make it easier to get out of harm’s way.
Gutless Method PROS
1 – More sanitary. Again, the lack of bile could mean that your meat will be more sanitary. Plus, you avoid touching the guts while removing them from the body cavity since they just stay put. It also prevents any liquids from the internal organs like the stomach or intestines which might have been punctured by a bullet or arrow.
2 – Faster. This takes less time and if you are in a hurry, it may be the way to go. If you have taken an animal in an area where there are large predators, it is extremely hot or extremely cold, you may choose to harvest in a more timely manner just for your safety.
Gutless Method CONS
1 – If you consume any organ meat and choose to harvest some of those organs, you will obviously need to gut the animal.
2 – Large game animals should be cooled properly to ensure the best tasting meat. If this is of utmost importance, you’ll want to gut the animal. The body cavity of big game animals is the warmest part of the animal and heat continues to build up here long after an animal has died-even during cold weather. This can negatively affect the taste and quality of meat, especially on choice interior cuts like the tenderloins.
Gutting and Quartering PROS are pretty much the Cons from above.
1 – Better tasting meat. Many hunters say that when they remove the guts so the internal temperature of the animal can drop more quickly, their meat tastes better.
2 – You Will Get More Out of the Kill. If you want to salvage any organ meat at all (heart, liver, caul fat, or rib racks) you will have to first gut it.
Gutting and Quartering CONS are pretty much the Pros from above.
1 – Less sanitary. There’s a bigger chance of contaminating your meat.
2 – Takes Longer. It takes quite a bit longer to gut the animal and pick out the organs you want leaving you vulnerable to the elements for a longer period of time.
The gutless method also “smells” better. You aren’t exposed to the internal stench and if you do happen to have some punctured organs, the smell for some could be unbearable. However, if you choose to hunt, the smell isn’t a big concern, it’s putting food on the table.
Whichever way you choose, just make sure you do what’s right for you. No one can or should tell you the best way to harvest meat and no one should feel obligated to eat internal organs just for the sake of getting more from your kill. Predators will take care of what you have left but it always is a great feeling to get the most from an animal. When we choose to kill animals to provide for our sustenance, we have an obligation, as the more consciously aware human beings that we are, to do this in the most moral way we possibly can. Figure out what that way is for you, and do the best you can!