In the introduction to this mini-series on meat handling, we talked about the fact that when the hunt ends, the real work begins! Next up, we’ll talk about necessary tools and gear for backcountry meat care. Today let’s talk a little bit about technique.
Field Dressing & Quartering
Deer hunters across the country are very familiar with “field dressing” their game; this involves opening the animal, removing the intestines and organs, and allowing heat to escape the body cavity so that the meat will cool. Once gutted, deer hunters will then transport the game to the location that it will be processed further.
You certainly could field dress an elk, but what would you do next? How would you get that animal moved so that it could be processed further? Many hunters choose to quarter their elk. The purpose of quartering is to break the elk down into large, yet manageable sections, which can be carried or packed by horses. That works well, but there is still a lot of meat (neck, backstraps, tenderloins, ribs) that has to be trimmed off of the elk’s body. Quartering an elk involves cutting some major bones and ligaments, so you either need to have a saw, or you really need to know what you’re doing with a knife.
The Gutless Method
The best option for do-it-yourself backcountry hunters that will be packing the meat out on their own is to debone the elk using the gutless method. (Don’t miss the videos as the end of this post!)
The goal of deboning an elk using the gutless method is to get the meat – just the meat – off of the animal as quickly as possible. Field dressing becomes unnecessary because we aren’t going to transport the animal whole, so we don’t need to let the heat escape the body. (And as a side note, gutting creates a lot of scent at the kill site, which is an important consideration in bear country.) Quartering the animal is unnecessary because we don’t want to pack out the bone. The gutless method enables you to take what you’re after – the meat – and nothing else. And the meat can cool quickly because it is removed from the heat of the body quickly.
I’ve been using the gutless method on whitetails for a couple of years now. (Yes, this method also works great for deer!) At first the process was very intimidating. After all, I was no butcher, so how should I know where to cut? But as it turns out, the process is very easy. And thankfully there are some great resources to help explain and demonstrate the process. The guys at Elk101.com have a great video on the gutless method, and here is another instructional series from Jay Scott Outdoors…
How It’s Done
As always, be sure to check your local regulations on evidence of sex, wanton waste, and other details regarding the handling of big game.