Why OTFs Are Good For Field Dressing
Ah, the thrill of the hunt! It’s the sort of excitement common to mankind since the dawn of time, one that the poet Sir Walter Scott captured well in his poem “Hunting Song.” It opens like this: “Waken, lords and ladies gay, / On the mountain dawns the day; / All the jolly chase is here / With hawk and horse and hunting-spear.” But no matter how much delight the “jolly chase” might bring, real hunters know that it also involves a lot of work. In fact, one of the most important (and simultaneously least romantic) parts of hunting is cleaning one’s kill. Without that, you end up with spoiled meat and a missed gastronomic opportunity.
In this article, we will describe what field dressing entails, some common practices you should follow, and why an OTF could serve as one of the tools of the trade when you’re out on your next hunt.
What Is Field Dressing?
Though this section may seem entirely extraneous to veteran hunters, it’s worth remembering why we field dress kills before we begin to discuss the appropriateness of various kinds of knives for the task. Field dressings is also known as gralloching, which comes from the old British word gralloch. According to Merriam-Webster, it means, “to remove the entrails from (as a deer): GUT.”
The reason why someone would need to dress out an animal killed during a hunt is simple: It helps preserve the meat. Left to slowly cool on its own, the meat of a carcass will quickly begin to spoil, sometimes in as little as an hour. Bacteria will soon start to spread, rendering the kill unsafe to eat. Additionally, field dressing helps hunters with transporting a kill. A North American male deer can weight up to 300 pounds, which is somewhat manageable. An elk, though, can reach an eye-popping 1,100 pounds. Forget about lugging that out of the field in one piece!
The idea of field dressing simply involves removing the entrails from the body cavity of a kill and quickly cooling down its core temperature. For some animals, this proves easy. (Consider how you can toss trout into an ice-filled cooler.) For most, though, it requires some work.
Although nowhere near as easy as fish, small animals such as squirrel or rabbit are relatively simple to process. With squirrels, field dressing begins by cutting a ring through the hide around the midsection and then pulling the hide off much like one would remove an individual’s shirt and pants. The next step involves severing the extremities (i.e., head, paws, tail) and removing the internal organs from its central cavity. Then you can chop the squirrel into five pieces, namely its four limbs and its torso. Rabbits work fairly similarly, except that its skin is easier to remove.
Deer and elk work differently. These large quadrupeds will need to have their intestinal tracts removed while dressing them out in order to prevent contaminating the meat. You should start by making a cut right above the anus, slice all the way around it, and then saw straight up in a line that continues until you reach the animal’s jaw. Warning: Don’t poke your knife in too deep in that initial cut, because you run the risk of puncturing intestine. You may need special tools to cut through the breast bone (more on that in the next section). Once you’ve reached and cut the windpipe, you can dispose of it, the lungs, and the entrails. (Feel free to keep the heart and lungs just so long as you ensure that they remain cold.) With a deer, you can now drag the carcass out; an elk will likely require quartering. If it’s hot, you’ll want to make a large incision near the femur to allow heat to dissipate. No matter the animal, know that you only have a couple of hours before the meat begins to spoil.
What Kind of Tools Do You Need for Field Dressing?
Field dressing will necessarily require different kinds of tools depending on the wildlife involved. For instance, when dealing with certain kinds of freshwater fish, you may only need one item listed in this section. However, in listing tools for field dressing, we’ll proceed with the idea that you’ll be dealing with larger game. To achieve ideal results, consider including the following items:
- Rope and a Sled: Getting a kill out of the field involves a lot of work. A conveyance and some sturdy rope will help lessen the load.
- Gloves: A pair of nitrile or rubber gloves will protect you from infections from exposure to bacteria, bodily fluids, or parasites.
- Bone Saw: Gutting a larger animal generally involves cutting through bone and cartilage, and a saw can make the process easier.
- Twine: With deer or elk, tying of the rectum with twine prior to removing the intestines prevents contamination of the meat.
- Garbage Bags or Contractor’s Bags: In the United States, not every state allows for the quartering of a kill in the field. Know laws before you begin your hunt. If it does, though, you may want to have some heavy-duty plastic bags to facilitate transportation and clean up.
- Ice and a Tarp: When transporting a carcass during warm weather, drape a tarp over its exterior to keep off the sun and place a bag of ice inside its cavity to leech away heat.
- Alcohol: A quick splash of rubbing alcohol can provide field disinfection of your tools.
- Bandages: Should you cut yourself while field dressing, you’ll want to clean and bandage the wound ASAP.
- Knives: The last — but very much not least! — item on our list. Truth be told, it should go at the start, because sharps, well-suited knives are a non-negotiable necessity when it comes to field dressing. With larger game, you’ll generally want two. The first should ideally be a heavy and sturdy blade that can handle hair, skin, joints, and thinner bits of cartilage. The second should be thinner for slicing off meat. And for this second kind of knife, we’d like to suggest that you select an OTF.
Why Include an OTF in Your Field Dressing Kit
OTF Knives offer several advantages when it comes to field dressing. First, it’s convenient. Dressing out a kill or a catch is a messy business, and you can’t always count on having both hands free. Being able to deploy and retract a knife one handed is a major advantage.
Second, OTFs come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. If working with fish, consider a stubby, California-legal OTF for fine work. Dealing with larger game? Big OTFs with nine-inch blades exist, or perhaps you’d prefer a serrated blade for dealing with stubborn sections.
Finally, unlike fixed-blade knives, OTFs save space. By just looking at the kit list above, you can see that it could easily get bulky and weighty. The more compact, the better, and OTFs excel at efficient use of space.
Check out our wide selection of OTFs today!