This blog series is targeted towards first time hunters and focuses on safe and sustainable hunting in Alberta. Check out a list of all the topics in the series here. This is the fifth article in the series.
It’s extremely important to follow safe practices and procedures while hunting. While on a hunt, conditions can change rapidly and good safety practices can mean the difference between life and death. Make sure you’re prepared and have educated yourself before heading out.
There are a few things you need to know about how to dress and transport your kill so that you ensure the meat is usable.
Approach the downed animal from behind, away from the legs and face. Do so with caution – especially if it’s a large animal – as they can sometimes suddenly kick and cause injury. Ensure that the animal is completely dispatched by touching the muzzle of your firearm (or for a bowhunter, with a stick) to the animal’s eye. If the animal blinks, it is still alive and must be dispatched quickly, either by severing both carotid arteries in the neck with a knife, or by a follow up shot to the brain pan or lung/heart area. If using a gun, unload it and make sure it’s out of harm’s way.
This is also the right time to tag the animal using the appropriate license for species, class and wildlife management unit – you don’t want to have any difficulties proving that the animal was taken legally. Please refer to the Annual Alberta Guide to Hunting Regulations to ensure the animal is properly tagged and that evidence of sex, species and class are maintained.
Field dressing is the process of removing internal organs to ensure that they don’t spread bacteria inside the carcass. Doing so helps the meat cool down faster, and makes it a lot easier to carry the carcass away from the hunt area. Field dressing should be done as early as possible after the animal is killed.
Tips and tricks
You need a sharp knife, surgical gloves, several feet of rope or nylon cord, rubber bands, plastic bags, paper towels, a large cooler full of ice, alcohol wipes and clean drinking water for best results during this procedure.
If the terrain has any relief, orient the animal with the head facing uphill, on its back. If you have a helper, have them hold the rear legs of your animal apart to allow for room to remove the guts. If you are alone, tie one of the rear legs to a tree and step inside the other rear leg to access the lower abdomen.
The dressing process
Start the process by using the sharp knife, cut around the rectum, loosening it from connective tissue between the pelvic girdle. Some people prefer to pull the rectum partially out and tied it off with twine to ensure fecal contamination does not occur. Take the knife, holding it edge side up, supported underneath by two fingers from your other hand, and run it under the abdominal skin from the rectum to the sternum. Clean your knife regularly to remove bacteria, debris, and any coagulated liquids and fat that may affect cutting ability – alcohol wipes work well.
Reach into the body cavity and cut the diaphragm free from the rib cage. Remove the windpipe by cutting as far forward in the chest cavity as you can. Now reach into the thoracic cavity as far up as you can manage, and get a firm grip on the windpipe. Pull back and up, and the heart, lungs, and lower intestinal tract should pull freely.
If there are any hang-ups, use your knife to loosen connective tissue from the inside of the body cavity, then pull all the organs and viscera free of the carcass. The rectum should slide out from within the carcass freely provided it was loosened properly at the beginning of the process.
Finish cleaning out the cavity by removing any tissue, and drain all excess blood by turning the animal onto its belly, with all legs splayed to the side until blood is drained. Remove all visible dirt, feces, hair, and bloodshot areas.
Wipe the cavity down with moist cloths to remove extraneous material. Make sure you use the clean water you brought with you and that you dry the inside well. Wipe the inside of the body cavity with paper towels – this is important because moisture allows bacteria and mold to grow, which can decrease the quality of the meat, or even pose health hazards.
Now you need to cool the meat. Bacteria will grow if the temperature is much above freezing, so the faster you get the meat chilled, the better. Prop the abdominal cavity open using sticks or a metal spreader to allow for cooling in the field.
Transporting your kill
The carcass is now ready to be transported. Make sure the tag remains affixed to the animal while it’s in transit.
When you get the carcass to either camp, home, hang and remove the skin, ensuring that the tag remains affixed until the animal is processed. Make sure it’s refrigerated as soon as possible to prevent spoiling.
Next up in the series on hunting will be a post about hunting non-licence and pest animals.