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Gutless Field Dressing How-To Guide for Deer and Elk

A detailed step-by-step guide on the gutless field dressing method for deer and elk.

So, you've found yourself standing over a bull elk, a caribou, or even a moose. Your heart is still pounding from the thrill of the hunt but your brain is grudgingly coming to the realization that there are now hundreds of pounds of delicious meat demanding your attention.

What do you do now?

First, slow down. Take a breath. Enjoy the moment. Sit down if you have to. Let it soak in. Those around you, or even the hour hand on your watch, will try to hurry you into action.

Now is not the time for haste. Well, at least not for a few minutes. To begin with, turn your attention to getting quality photos with a real camera. Shoot from a low angle, use a flash and shoot like there is no tomorrow, because for this beautiful animal - there isn't.

With that done it's time to dig out your knife. I carry the Outdoor Edge Razor Pro Saw Combo for several reasons. No knife will stay razor sharp through an entire bull elk breakdown so you either have to carry a sharpener of some kind or a replaceable blade knife.

The Razor Pro has a much stronger blade than other similar knives and it comes with six blades, so I know I will have a scary sharp knife no matter what I run into.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

The combo weighs only 11 ounces and includes a gutting blade and a folding saw, which works great for splitting the pelvis on all game. The saw can also be used for removing small trees and branches that may be in your way when field dressing or even clearing shooting lanes when setting up on the ground or in a tree.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

If you're going to hang your bull on the wall quickly cape it by skinning around the midsection well behind the front legs, up the back of the neck, past the front legs and up to the head. Remove the head and hang the cape over a log to cool.

However, if your only goal is to break the animal down into manageable pieces and get it cooled down, the best way to do that is called the "gutless" method. It's quicker and since you're not dealing with the entrails your meat stays cleaner.

You can leave the skin on the quarters to ward off dirt but we're going to assume you have to pack your animal out and need to eliminate as much weight as possible.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

First, cut around the top of the front and back legs, just above the knee. Take the gutting blade on the Razor Pro and essentially "zip" open the skin by slicing up the leg, across the mid-section about halfway up, and down to the other leg cut.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

Extend the cut up the bottom of the neck to the skull so you can get to the neck meat. Now skin the entire side up to and slightly past the top of the back. Don't waste valuable time skinning the belly section.


Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

Next, remove the front shoulder by simply slicing between the ribcage and the shoulder until it comes free. Slip it into a game bag and lay it in the shade on a couple logs so the air can circulate and cool it down.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

Now remove the hindquarter by slicing along the pelvis in a circular pattern around the base then lift the hindquarter and locate the hip socket.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk
Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk
Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

Use the tip of your knife to cut the main tendon inside the socket. Remove the hindquarter and bag it. Be sure to leave evidence of sex (testicle) where required.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

Next, remove the backstraps by slicing along the spinous process bones straight down to where the ribs attach to the spine. Slide your knife along the top of the ribs and meet up with your first cut.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk
Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

Run these cuts as far up the neck as you can then bag the backstrap, along with all the trimmings (neck, hip, and rib meat) from the entire topside of your animal.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

Now carefully cut into the body cavity along the spine just behind the last rib. You can use your Outdoor Edge saw to disconnect the last rib to give you more room to work.

Gutless Field Dressing Deer and Elk

Reach in and filet out the tenderloin, which lies under the spine. Be very careful not to nick the stomach. You may choose to wait and remove the tenderloins as a last step.

By now, most knives are getting a bit dull, especially if you've been skinning the tough neck skin. With the Razor Pro you can simply change blades. But rather than waste them I just pull out my Outdoor Edge Sharp-X sharpener and run the blade across the ceramic rods to tune it up. This sharpener is virtually weightless and works great. A sharp knife is a safe knife.

Now simply flip the skin back down over the carcass, roll your animal over and repeat the process on the other side.

If you're packing your animal out on your back you'll need to "bone" the meat to save weight. With a little practice you can bone a hindquarter in less than a minute.

The front shoulder takes a little more work. Just remove the muscle groups from the scapula and bone out the lower legs and throw in the trimming pile. Boning is also the quickest way to get the body heat out of the meat.

Obviously, there is more than one way to "skin an elk" but this is a quick, clean, and efficient method for getting your animal cooled down and into your freezer in the best possible condition.

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