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Maximizing your kill with big game harvest techniques

They say that “time is money,” well in the big game hunting world “time is meat.”

White Tailed Deer are among North Dakota's favorite types of Big Game. (Photo courtesy of North Dakota Game and Fish Department)
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DICKINSON, N.D. -- They say that “time is money,” well in the big game hunting world, “time is meat.”

Steven Rinella of the renowned outdoor company MeatEater advises hunters to gut big game immediately.

“Regardless of whether the animal will be skinned and processed in the field or at home, it needs to be gutted immediately. Big game should be gutted as soon as possible, preferably within an hour of the animal’s death,” Rinella said in an article called “Field Tips For Gutting a Big Game Animal.”

Trent Myran, seasoned hunter and North Dakota resident, agrees.

Myran said if the meat is not separated quickly from the guts it could ruin the meat — especially during periods of warmer weather. Myran explained how even after he gutted a moose, he could see the stomach expanding.


“As soon as you kill the moose, they start to bloat, their stomach will bloat right in front of you, you can see it getting bigger. .. you have to get the stomach out of there ‘cause it will burst ... you need several people to get (a moose) field dressed right on the spot,” Myran said.

Myran recommended bringing at least three people along when field dressing exceptionally large game like moose, elk, caribou, reindeer or musk oxen.

When gutting big game in the field, Myran says you must first break the ribcage and remove the windpipe.

“If you can cut (the breast bone) all the way up toward their neck, then you can reach in there and get ahold of that windpipe,”Myran said,“You also use that bone saw down by their hips so you can make a cut down there where their hips meet and you just pull from the windpipe and pull it out toward the rear of the animal.”

Bringing field dressing gloves and proper clothing are essential in the field, Myran said, as field dressing can prove to be a bloody and dirty job. A six pack of gloves will cost around $6 on Walmart.com. Cabela’s also offers a six pack of field dressing gloves for $11.99.

Myran also emphasized the importance of checking local regulations regarding field dressing methods. He said different hunting zones have different method regulations.


In an article comparing and contrasting the two methods, MeatEater writer Brody Henderson lists at least two possible methods of gutting a big game animal, the gutless method or the quarter and gut method. The gutless method, Henderson said, is ideal if time is limited and predators are in proximity to the site. He also gives it credit for being convenient when trying to cool the meat quickly and prevent spoilage, however he recommends gutting the animal.

“The drawbacks of the gutless method simply outweigh any perceived benefits. Just a few extra minutes of work allows hunters to more efficiently access all the edible meat,” Henderson said in the article.

Quick and easy gutting, requires effective tools. Owner Greg Knutson of Andrus Outdoors in Dickinson recommends a Buck knife when field dressing big game. He named Buck knives as their biggest seller, especially the Buck Zipper.

“A lot of guys like the zipper," Knutson said. "Everybody uses something different but that’s probably our biggest seller."

After gutting the animal, Myran strips the meat to the bone and hangs it up for a few days to cool.
Some hunters, like Myran, prefer to hang their meat on hooks, more often than not, they hang the meat by the front legs, however an article from RealTree suggests that the conventional approach causes rigor mortis to set into the hind quarters, spoiling the meat a lot faster. They suggest a method called the tenderstretch method which involves hanging the animal by its pelvic bone.

“When a deer is hung by the neck or Achilles tendon, gravity pulls on the hindquarters and puts tension on the muscles as they experience rigor mortis. When a deer is hung the tenderstretch way, the hindquarters are relaxed and have limited contraction during rigor mortis,” Spencer Neuharth said in the article, “ You’ve Been Hanging Your Deer Wrong for Years .”

Season dates can be found at the North Dakota Game and Fish website’s Big Game page .

Caleb Amick is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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