Apr 20 2013

Field-dressing and butchering a carcass.

Preservation begins as soon as the organism is some kind of definition of “dead” which describes the cessation of respiration of an organism. It’s a rather imprecise definition as many cells of bodies and many cells hanging out on bodies continue to respire long after consciousness has left (Elvis has left the building) but we’ll leave such up to the mystics for now. What you need for dressing, gutting, skinning and butchering involves the following:

  • A very sharp short knife.
  • A very sharp long knife.
  • A meat saw. There’s no way to deliver nicely cut steaks and chops without a meat saw.
  • Your wet stones and strops. You will need to sharpen your blade to maintain that perfect edge.
  • A decent knowledge of the animal’s anatomy and if it has musk-sacks. You want to know where those are on a male animal and you want to avoid them. You can ruin a whole carcass if you slice one of those. Talk about rancid. Remember how rancid bear fat was used to attract human females? Male wild animals use the same trick.
  • A baby-sitter. Children like to name the animals. They don’t like to remember the name when eating the animal or it’s method of dispatch.

In brief your job here has 5 parts: cut, hang, bleed, gut, skin. So we start by cutting the animal deeply across the throat if that wasn’t their method of dispatch to begin with, severing the carotid arteries. The you hang the animal by it’s rear feet (or ankles more appropriately with a hook though their achilles tendons) and let the animal bleed out all it’s gonna. Catch the blood in a bucket for all kinds of uses if you want. I like to decapitate the animal at this point because it’s often easier to invert the animal following this point. You are ready to gut the animal.

Insert your long knife into the rectum and begin cutting around the abdomen and towards the rib cage, then right up (or down) through the middle of the rib cage and not stopping until you are through the chest and throat area. Whatever is inside of that body cavity comes out into a garbage can below. It can be lined in case you want to save the entrails for any number or purposes. And then you are ready to skin the animal. Watch for musk sacks on male animals. They will ruin your kill.

From there you can leave the carcass hang for days or even weeks in your root cellar and just age a bit. Meat’s fibers break down chemically as it ages and becomes more tender. And from there you can take it any way you want from leaving the carcass intact or going ahead and butchering and packaging the parts for freezing or drying or smoking or salting or what-have-you. Generally with a large animal you want to use all of the techniques as they each result in different flavors and have different resistances to composition. If one method fails you hopefully have meats preserved differently that made it.


With the above we’re kind of forced to know how to butcher. OK the guys in the supermarket with the white coats on, they don’t even know how to butcher anymore. It’s a real art but you don’t have to be the world’s greatest to reduce a full size animal into more manageable chunks. But I tend to take a lot of things for granted, and in this case, I can’t remember when I first dressed and butchered an animal. I don’t remember learning it. I think I probably saw it done so many times it was like picking up the phone was for us old people who remember phones when they were attached to walls. Nobody had to show us, when we got tall enough to pick the damn thing up is when the trouble started. Nowadays people have phones attached to their bodies. Now I’m not going to get too deep into butchery here. But in brief, if you have to, it’s cut, hang, bleed, gut, skin, dry.

Here is a really excellent paper on meat preservation. which is from a grassroots perspective. It includes a very basic butchering diagram.