How to Process Your Harvest and Fill Your Freezer

You’ve put in the hours, the days… the years. You’ve put boot leather on more dirt, rocks, and tree trunks than you can count. Now, you’ve taken your shot and the point of all that commitment and passion lies at your feet.

You’ve harvested an animal. Now what?

As you take it all in, giving thanks and reliving that thrilling moment of victory, the clock is ticking. The time to start taking care of your harvest is right now.

While many hunters place high value on big antlers, for the CenterPoint Crew, creating lasting memories and filling the freezer is the goal. Best being caring for all that fantastic protein as soon as possible. 

Field Dressing

Be it moose, elk, deer, or boar, the good news is they all come apart pretty much the same way. Your big variables will always be location, time, equipment, and temperature, so make sure you have a plan to account for them.

Decide in advance if you are going to:

  • gut & drag

  • quarter and pack out

  • go gutless & boneless.

We’ll break these options down a bit, but which you choose depends — as always — on your big variables. For example, if you’re traveling by plane, or over long distances, deboning may be worth it.

After a lifetime of hunting, fishing, butchering, and cooking all over the country, I know that my way is not the only way. There are as many ways to skin a deer as there are deer hunters! That said, I love sharing what I’ve taught myself and learned from other hunters, such as my Grandfather, who had me helping skin deer and other critters when I was three years old.

Of course, no matter where and what you’re hunting, please pack along a basic first aid kit. I keep mine in a neoprene pouch in the bottom of my pack. It only weighs about 10 oz so it’s not bad to carry around in case of accident. To that end, one word of advice: keep your knife hand dry and blood free. Too many times I’ve seen folks with a slippery grip cut themselves.

Gut and Drag

What you’ll need for gutting & dragging is pretty basic:

  • a sharp knife

  • rag/napkins

  • baby wipes

  • field dressing gloves

  • gallon-sized Zip-loc bags for organs

  • rope/pull/sled/cart

You can add specialty equipment to the list as you see fit, such as a hand saw, a butt-out type tool, or a FieldTorq knife.

Your goal here is twofold: Get the innards out to begin the cooling process for the meat and reduce chances of spoilage, and reduce weight for transport.

I do it like this:

  1. Prop the rump of the animal up on a log or stump and make a circular cut around the anus.  Leave enough hair that you can grab hold of it and pull toward you, reaching in with your knife to loosen it all around (but being careful not to cut through the colon). After you get about six inches out, squeeze out any feces and tie it in a knot.

  2. Now make a cut just under the hide from the belly-side of your hole to the top of the rib cage being careful not to cut through the abdominal wall. Carefully peel the skin back on each side of the cut by about three inches. This will help keep hair out of the cavity. Move the rump off of your stump or log and lay the animal flat.

  3. Make a cut at the middle of the pelvis on either side of the “Aitch” bone so that the legs relax out to either side. Then make a shallow cut straight up the abdominal muscle to the base of the rib cage being careful not to nick the gut. As a side note, if you are planning to do a shoulder mount on the animal, you’ll want to stop this cut and the next one at the bottom of the rib cage.

  4. Wipe your non knife hand dry. Using both hands hold your knife firmly placing the bottom of the blade at the center line of the rib cage and make the cut through it to match the one you made on the hide. 

  5. Now the fun part! Cut the diaphragm muscle along both sides of the ribs; this is that thin muscle that separates the organs from the stomach and intestines. Reach up in the chest cavity, grab the esophagus, carefully navigate your knife to it and sever it as far up as you are able to reach.

  6. Remove the heart, liver, and lungs and place them into the Zip-loc bags.

  7. Make a small cut about four inches down from the top of the esophagus big enough to get your thumb into. With your middle finger in the top of it and thumb in the new hole begin to pull the entire mass toward the hind legs, nipping muscles with your knife to free it as you go. The whole shebang should pull out quite easily.

  8. At this point, remove the bottom-most section of all four legs to keep them from tangling in trees or underbrush. Do not so sever the Achilles tendons on the hind legs, or you’ll have trouble hanging your harvest to skin and cool.

And there you go: guts are gone and you’re ready to drag! 

Quartering

For Quartering, you’ll want all the items mentioned for gut & drag, plus some good anti-microbial game bags and a bone saw or hatchet so you can keep the ribs and remove the lower legs without dulling your knife’s edge. 

For larger game, strongly consider bringing a pack frame. Having one was a life-saver on my last elk pack out! 

For quartering, follow the steps listed above then:

  1. Cut out the inside tenderloins and place them in a Zip-loc. 
    (at this point you can continue with the hide on, or skin as you go.)

  2. Put the animal on its side and remove the top shoulder and hind leg. 

  3. Split the hide, starting behind its head and going straight down the spine.

  4. Remove the backstrap.

  5. Make your initial cuts to remove the neck and head, cutting around the top and the base of the neck on the side that’s up. Flip the animal over and repeat. Remove the remaining backstrap, hind leg, and shoulder.

When done, you should have two hind legs, two shoulders, two backstraps, two inside tenderloins, one neck and — if you’re keeping the antlers — one head. This method worked great for both of my Colorado elk.

Gutless and Boneless

The Gutless & Boneless set up is pretty much the same except you can leave the bone saw and specialty tools. I do recommend bringing a small knife sharpening stone and adding a skinning knife to your pack, however.

Here’s how you tackle this process:

  1. With the animal on its side or propped on its belly make a cut from the base of the skull to the top of the rump, splitting the hide the whole way. Then make the same cut from the spine to the belly (being careful not to pierce the abdominal wall) so you effectively make a “T”-shaped cut on the animal.

  2. At the corner of the “T”, begin to skin the animal, pulling the skin off toward the head and removing meat into game bags as you go.

  3. If you are taking the hide for a mount, be careful to keep it intact. If not, make as many cuts to the hide as you see fit to bone out the meat. Repeat this process for the hind quarter.

  4. After the backstrap is removed, make a cut through the abdominal wall just in front of the hind leg to reach in and remove the inside tenderloin.

  5. Flip the animal over and repeat. 

Doing all this is quite a lot of work, but you’ll have a pack (or four) full of skinless, boneless wild protein!

I hope this guide helps you in your future hunts and I encourage you to share what you know and have learned with others to keep our outdoors heritage alive, well, and passed on to future generations!

If you’d like to learn more about HuntChef, wild game cooking tips, my Experience Hunts, or my seasoning line, check us out at WWW.HUNTCHEF.COM and follow along on Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, Mossy Oak Go, and of course subscribe to my YouTube channel. And don’t miss our TV show, Mtn Top Outdoors, airing on Sportsman Channel January thru June, Wednesday nights at 7:30pm.

Good luck, be safe, and always #EATWHATYOUKILL

 

HuntChef

Jeremy Critchfield

Back to Blog

Related Articles

How to Prep Your Crossbow Before Sighting in for Hunting Season

Hunting season is around the corner and now is the time to prep your crossbow. Ideally you’ve kept...

How to Choose the Right Crossbow for Your Budget

At CenterPoint Archery, we know every archer comes from a different financial place. However, we...

How To Film Your Hunt

By Bone Cold Media and Forever Wild