Field Dressing Moose|
Copyright(C) 2003 Lark & Laura Ritchie. All Right Reserved
The hard work of Moose Hunting begins after your animal is down. The true hunterís unique celebration of the successful hunt is a form of sacrifice he demands of himself in that work towards best quality meat. With the proper attitude, this type of work is celebration enough. You have been successful, youíre usually with hunting partners, and enjoying their camaraderie, or when alone, reliving your experience and appreciating the animal. Celebration, in the form of recreational celebration must come later. Your first priority is to cool down the carcass as quickly as possible.
Most available field dressing instructions or manuals are too vague for a first-time hunter. These detailed, basic instructions will guide you through the process of dressing and quartering your moose. These same instructions can be used for any game animal. A few comments at the end of the process description generalize the procedure with notes for smaller animals. Minimum tools are two sharp axes, and two sharp knives. A saw might be used should you have one, but is not necessary for field dressing.
First of all, think safety. Approach any downed animal with caution. There are several stories of excited hunters being too close when an animal though to be dead struggles to get up, injuring the hunter. Make your approach from the rear of the animal, ensuring it is dead. That done, TAG YOUR ANIMAL. In the excitment of the hunt, many forget this simple step. Legally, you must tag you animal immediately. Save yourself trouble and do this first.
Your first priority is to cool down the carcass as quickly as possible. Have your hunting pack available at all times during the hunt so that tools are readily at hand. Move the animal so that you have adequate working room, preferably in a slightly inclined orientation, head at the lower end.
Clear the working area for safety and convenience. Remember that a moose is large, running up to 1200 pounds or more for a bull. Take your time, do not become exhausted or overworked. Expect the process to take up to one hour for a novice. Experienced field dressers will still require at least a half hour to complete work. There is no need to rush. The time taken at this point in the hunt ensures your meat will be clean, and enjoyable. You will find the help of your hunting partners of real benefit.
Avoid using water in the process, which may contain soil or bacteria which could lead to spoiling you meat. A carcass cavity wiped of blood this way will seal the meat with a thin film of body fluids that dry quickly. Using water dilutes this fluid, and introduces unnecessary microbes and creates an environment for bacterial growth.
A Brief Step-By-Step Summary Of The Process:
1. Clear Your Working Area
2. Bleed The Animal
3. Preparatory Skin Cuts, Throat to Anus
4. Break the Breastbone
5. Sever the Wind Pipe and Gullet from the Head
6. Open the Abdomen to the Anus
7. Split the Pelvic Bone
8. Cut the Diaphragm from the Cavity Wall
9. Free the Anus and Bladder
10. Roll Out The Abdominal Organs with Anus Attached
11. Remove the Neck and Chest Cavity Organs
12. Clean the Body Cavity
13. Prepare the Carcass for Cooling or Quartering
The Details of Field Dressing
Clear Your Working Area Clean the immediate area around the animal so
that you have room to move, and to roll out the entrails. Plan ahead, choosing
the lowest ground around the animal for the entrails. Move the carcass if
necessary. Also clear an area leading away from the carcass, in the direction
you wish to move the animal away from the entrails for transportation or
quartering. Place the animal on its back, spreading the rear legs using ropes or
having your partners hold them apart. If you have several people, or additional
rope, do the same with the front legs.
Bleed The AnimalA heart-lung shot usually provides adequate bleeding.
However, to ensure bleeding, insert a sharp knife into the shallow cavity at the
base of the throat and slice across the main blood vessels with a wide and deep,
crosswise cut. This opens the jugular veins that run from the heart to the head.
Since the animal is dead, blood flow is by gravity. Allow the blood to flow away
from the animal, clearing the ground when necessary.
Preparatory Skin Cuts, Throat to Anus Starting at the breastbone, just
below the rib cage, use a sharp knife cutting the skin in a straight line to the
neck and base of the jaw. Complete the process by cutting through the muscles to
the bone of the ribcage and higher, exposing the windpipe and gullet.
Cut the skin from the base of the ribs downward over the middle of the belly,
in a straight line, to the anus, taking care to cut around the genitals
slightly. The genitals must be left on one hind quarter in Ontario, for sex
identification. Once these cuts are done, prepare to eviscerate the animal.
Break the Breastbone With the breastbone exposed, use two axes to cut
through the breastbone. Use your sharpest axe as the cutting tool, the second as
a hammer, driving the cutter from the base of the ribcage, up the middle of the
breastbone, through the top ribs. As the cut enlarges, pull the front legs apart
opening the chest cavity.
Sever the Wind Pipe and Gullet from the HeadWith the chest cavity open,
sever the windpipe and gullet as close to the head as possible, pulling it clear
of the carcass, cutting where necessary. When free of the neck, lay in the chest
Open the Abdomen to the AnusWith the chest spread open, and the neck
area clean, move to opening the abdomen. From the base of the ribcage, carefully
cut through the abdominal muscles, exposing the stomach and intestines, without
puncturing them. Have your partners spread the abdomen to open the area for easy
As you approach the pelvic area, take precautions to avoid cutting the
bladder. Cut through the muscles to the pelvic bone, exposing it for the next
Split the Pelvic BoneStarting at the top of the pelvis (closest to the
abdomen), using the two axe method described above, split the pelvic bone,
taking care to stay clear of the genitals. Avoid cutting the urinary tract,
which could release urine, tainting the meat.
Cut the Diaphragm from the Cavity Wall This procedure is one that
requires patience and care. You must start at on side of the chest cavity near
the base of the ribs cutting the diaphragm at the chest cavity wall. As you move
deeper into the cavity, you may need help from a few hands to pull the organs to
one side so that you have rooms to see and cut. Cut as far back along the cavity
wall as is possible. Switch to the other side of the chest cavity, repeating the
actions. Most likely, some of the diaphragm will remain attached. Leave the
remainder for later.
Free the Anus and BladderThe most important procedure is the separation
of the anus from the carcass and the pelvic area. Extreme care must be taken not
to cut the intestines and the urinary tract, which could taint the meat. At the
opened pelvic bone, use a sharp knife to make cuts to free the large intestine
and rectum from the pelvic area. Extra hands are helpful to pull the organs to
one side or the other to clear the working area. Proceed until working in this
area until the rectum meets the muscle tissue near the anus.
At the base of the tail, use a sharp knife to cut a circle the skin about one
or two inches from the anus. Once completed, use the knife to cut through the
muscle tissue to the inside of the pelvic bone, towards the top of the pelvic
bone, to free the anus and rectum. At times, you may have to work both from the
anus area and from the opening of the split pelvis to free the organs. Once
free, pull and hold the anus, rectum and lower intestine free of the cavity
Roll Out The Abdominal Organs with Anus AttachedWith the Anus and
Rectum free and held clear, slightly roll the carcass to the lower ground, and
allow the intestines and the stomach to fall to the prepared ground.
Remove the Neck and Chest Cavity OrgansGrasp the windpipe from the
chest cavity, and pull the heart and lungs out toward the entrails on the
ground. Cut the remaining tissue holding the diaphragm to the back of the chest
wall freeing the organs from the carcass. Allow any blood to flow from the
cavity. Roll the carcass to drain as much blood as possible.
Clean the Body CavityNow that the body cavity is clear of organs, use
absorbent material to wipe it clean. This can be cloth rags you have prepared in
your hunting pack, or clean grass, moss, or leaves at the site. Avoid using
water in the process, which may contain soil or bacteria which could lead to
spoiling you meat. A carcass cavity wiped of blood this way will seal the meat
with a thin film of body fluids that dry quickly. Using water dilutes this
fluid, and introduces unnecessary microbes and creates an environment for
Prepare the Carcass for Cooling, Quartering, or TransportRepeating the
introductory note at the beginning, cooling the carcass is a first priority.
Depending or the time available to you, and the weather conditions you may
decide to move directly to transporting your animal whole, quartering, it for
transport, or leaving it to cool some hours. Quartering and transport is covered
later. Here, the focus is preparation for cooling, should you decide to leave
the carcass for some hours.
The assumption is that the temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Should
the temperature be higher, seriously consider transporting your meat to your
camp or butchering facility for hanging and cooling immediately.
Depending on the size of the animal, cooling can present you with several
problems. A large animal cools more slowly than a small animal, because the mass
involved and the surface area of the animal. A rabbit cools in minutes, a moose,
Efficient cooling is a matter of air circulation, a transfer of heat from the
surfaces of the carcass to the air, and away. Leaving the animal in a heap risks
meat spoilage, in violation of most provincial and state game regulation.
Attempt to provide as much air flow around and through the carcass as is humanly
possible. The most effective strategy is hanging a quartered carcass, thereby
increasing surface area and air circulation to a maximum.
The next best approach is hanging the entire animal. This may not be
possible, depending on the help, materials and tools available at the field
dressing site. Failing these first two methods, the next alternative is to
provide free air circulation between the ground and the carcass, laying on its
back, the body cavity open but protected from possible rain or snow.
Provide air circulation by placing the carcass (with a moose, rolling the
carcass) on logs or some similar supporting material. Ensure free air
circulation by providing several supports along the backbone area, so that the
animal is indeed off the ground. Ensure it will not roll by tying off the legs
to surrounding trees or other anchors. If direct sun, rain or snow is a high,
probability protect the moose by placing a framework of spruce, balsam or pine
boughs above the carcass, leaving at least six inches of free space for air
At lower temperatures, if the next hours are not expected to be warmer and
when snow is on the ground, it may not be necessary to lift the animal. Only
after you have made provisions for cooling can you take some time to rest and
celebrate in what can be called recreational celebration.
Additional Notes and GeneralizationsA small field saw, such as the
Browning Folding Saw might be used for splitting the pelvic bone and the
For animals that are smaller than the moose, for example deer and bear, the
breastbone and the pelvic bone might be able to be split with the knife alone.
Any sharp quality hunting knife with a five to seven inch blade is adequate for
moose, as well as smaller game.
Effective hunting axes are those with a sharp two and one-half pound head,
with handles 24 to 26 inches in length.
Four 15 foot lengths of 3/8 inch ropes allow stabilizing and tying off the
legs while field dressing or carrying quarters.