The sheer volume of specialised gadgets and knick-knacks aimed towards the keen hunter can be mind-boggling. Most of these are tailored to the American and European markets but we Australians know hunting is hunting, no matter where in the world you are. Some products really make our efforts much easier and safer. Other items leave you scratching your head and having a laugh at the same time.
Dressing game in the field is something that most hunters take seriously. Converting a despatched animal into food fit for human consumption takes some know-how and having a set of tools to make the task more straightforward. Meat can be spoiled or totally ruined if hygienic handling of the carcass is not carried out. On a trip for deer a few friends had a large amount of venison blighted due to invasive fly larvae and they were rightly upset at having harvested some fine table venison only for it to go to waste. It’s happened to all of us, I can tell you. I have listed some handy implements which I found make field dressing less of a chore.
1. Game bags: These are basically made from breathable cloth which serves the purpose of keeping insects off the animal carcass while allowing air to circulate and cool the meat adequately prior to further treatment.
Game bags vary in size from commercially available ones which can cover two or three whole deer/goats down to ‘ham-bags’ which are ideal for storing legs, shoulders backstraps and whole, smaller game such as rabbits and ducks. Alternatively, making your own game bags using surplus cotton sheets, hessian, muslin-cloth and similar materials is a worthwhile project and you can adapt the bags to your requirements.
2. Gambrels: Having a decent gambrel to which you can hoist larger game off the ground makes gralloching (gutting) in the field much more trouble-free. Added to that a strong, thick rope is a pre-requisite to lifting the carcass, as thinner ropes can cut into your hands. Safety-wise, ensure that the structure which will be the leverage point of the rope/gambrel is strong enough to support the weight and always hoist game off the ground by employing two persons as a minimum. Work slowly, lift gradually.
3. S-hooks: Ideal for hanging smaller game once field dressed and for handling larger cuts such as legs, shoulders and backstraps. They also are handy for suspending smaller goats and deer from a sturdy tree or similar to perform a suspended gralloch. Being compact and light, they can be carried in a backpack.
4. Gutting knives: While gutting larger game can be done with a normal field-dressing knife taking extra care, gutting knives are worth their weight in gold and ensure that abdominal contents are not spilled into the gut cavity when gralloching a larger animal.
Purpose-made gutting units which accept replaceable Stanley knife-style blades are invaluable and easily zip through the abdominal skin to allow access to the intestines and ‘pluck’ – liver, heart and lungs. Take it from me, being covered in digested grass is not pleasant and having faecal matter taint eye fillets is not what meat hygiene is about.
5. Rib cage spreader: Such a spreader is paramount, especially for a solo hunter. It assists in making access to the ‘pluck’, once the sternum of a goat or deer is split. Simply prop it open and use it to force the two sides of the rib cage apart.
6. Pruning secateurs: A decent pair of heavy-duty pruning secateurs, ideally the short pole-pruning variety, is one of the key tools in my butchering kit. This is primarily utilised for splitting open the sternum of goats and deer (rather than a saw – it’s much faster and cleaner). It can also cut through thinner leg joints or bone structures.
7. Foldable pruning saw: This is perfect for removing hoofs (at the knee joint) rather than a knife. Yes, with practice, a knife can cut through a deer or goat leg at the knee joint. However, an experience and trip to the ER of a country hospital at 1.30am now sees me rely on a foldable pruning saw which is trim enough to fit in my hunting backpack. Opt for knives for cutting through flesh – not bones. It can also hack through the sternum to access the ‘pluck’.
8. Poultry shears: Similar to the pruning secateurs, a pair of poultry shears are excellent for processing small game and game birds. They can quickly cut through legs, wings, remove the head and even segment carcasses into meal-sized portions ready for the freezer or pot.
9. Nitrile gloves: Disposable nitrile gloves are ‘food-grade’ standard, in that they don’t contain powder which latex gloves tend to do. They are best purchased in boxes of 100 in a size to suit the handler. I always carry a bag of a dozen pairs of gloves in my backpack and more in my butchering box and vehicle. You never can have enough nitrile gloves.
10. Cut-proof gloves: An addition to my field dressing kit – no doubt thanks to my dash to the ER with a badly cut left ring-finger. It hurt my pride more than anything. I knew that cut-proof gloves would be available, not the chain-mesh type but something more adaptable for field use.
Thankfully the internet obliged with countless types and brands of cut-proof gloves. The ones I chose are made of glass-fibre polypropylene and are washable and reusable. I only wear the glove on my left hand as this does all the holding and pulling, with the right hand controlling the knife. Perfect when you are trying to free up the ‘pluck’ and cutting through the diaphragm. No more cut fingers, hopefully.
11. Cable ties: A necessity in your backpack or butchering kit. Smaller ones are suitable for tying off the oesophagus/anus and eliminating spillage of stomach contents or faecal matter in the thorax or abdomen. Larger cable ties have a myriad of uses and when dressing game in the field, you are bound to come up with a task when you need it the most.
12. The Butt Out aka ‘the anus extruder’: This item always generates laughs galore when I pull it out of my backpack. Developed in the US, this handy tool does what the name implies – it is utilised to free up an animal’s anus and large intestine and in turn makes the removal of these entrails, together with the rest of the gut, much smoother. It works a treat but raises sniggers that make hunting with friends a priceless moment.
These 12 products have made field dressing a much easier operation as well as giving an extra edge in safety. Sharp knives are always a hazard and minimising their potential risk is a good idea. Added to that, ensuring that we hygienically process carcasses destined for our table is another reason for investing in such specialised field dressing tools. Having respect for an animal that we have taken for our own consumption and turning it into some magnificent meals requires safe, germ-free meat handling and dispensation.