Preparing Wild Game

General Tips For Preparing Wild Game

Ask any hunter and they will tell you one of the best parts of hunting is after the harvest when you are able to share some of the wild game meat you have harvested with friends and family. It makes all of the cold days, early mornings, and disappointments well worth it to know you are giving someone you care about some of the best meat in the world.

Immediately after the kill you will want to properly field dress and clean the animal. This done to allow the meat to cool as quickly as possible and to prevent any spoilage. Part of the cleaning process usually involves skinning or plucking the animal. The larger the game you have hunted usually means the more work ahead of you. If it is your first time cleaning large game try to have a mentor or experienced hunter with you.

Before you start hunting big game you need to take into consideration how much meat you can actually eat and store. A general rule of thumb employed by most hunters is your going to take home 50% of the wild game animals body weight. Meaning by the time you field dress, skin, and de-bone the animal it should weigh half its original weight. Taking home a trophy moose might seem like a good idea now but you have to have room to store up to 750lbs of meat.

One final thought on preparing wild game is cooking temperatures. As another general rule if the wild game animal you hunt eats meat itself you will want to cook it to well done. If it doesn’t you should be ok to eat it a bit more on the rare side.

Animals like wild pigs, bears, and mountain lions can carry a parasitic disease called Trichinosis which can be passed onto humans.

Animals like Deer, Elk, and Moose are usually fine to eat a bit rare. But always err on the side of caution and give it another minute on the grill if you have concerns.

Preparing Wild Game In The Field

Prior to a hunt taking place a hunter needs to plan for the wild game meat they are about to bring home. As the meat yield from big game animals in North America can in the hundreds of pounds you need to know what you are going to do with it even before you head out hunting.

Several questions you should ask your self are:

Will I be processing the wild game?

Although it is not hard to process your own wild game you take some time to learn what you are doing before you bring an animal home. You need to ensure that you have a clean work environment with enough room to process the game you are after. You also need to make sure you pre-purchase all the wraps, tapes, and freezer bags in advance of hunting season.

Will I take the wild game to a local processor or butcher?

wild game processor

Taking the meat to a local butcher or wild game processor is an easy way to process your wild game and get it ready for the table. There is a cost involved with this and it can be fairly pricey depending upon what you are looking for them to do. A straight cut and wrap usually isn’t too bad price wise but when you start having the butcher turn your wild game into sausages, jerky, and burgers you can expect the price to come up considerably.

Prior to the start of the hunting season you will want to find a local butcher or wild game processor in your area and inquire about their hours of operation and rates. Make sure if they are just a butcher that they actually accept wild game. Some do and some do not. A quick search on google or a hunting message board in your area should point you in the right direction. It will also give you an idea on the cost and quality of work they do. It is a good idea to carry that wild game processors number with you while you are out hunting. Always call ahead and let them know that you are going to be dropping off an animal. For big game animals you will want to make sure that you have either a garage or a friends to hang the animal in overnight if you take the animal outside of the processors hours. A big game animal that is allowed to freeze overnight in the cold is going to present its own challenges when it comes to processing.

How will I transport the wild game to my home or to the butcher shop?

Every time that you are out hunting wild game you should be prepared to transport wild game. A car or small vehicle is fine for the transport of small game, upland game birds, and migratory game birds. I have seen guys transport deer in their cars before. That is kind of your call and also your car. I would just make sure that I have one or two tarps in the trunk in case of a successful hunt. If you are after big game animals like moose or elk you need to ensure you have a vehicle like a truck or van that is capable of hauling them to your home or the butcher shop.

How am I going to store the wild game?

One of the most important considerations you need to make before you head out hunting is that you have enough freezer space to accommodate the animals you are hunting. A small freezer built onto your refrigerator will not accommodate a moose it usually will not hold a processed whitetail deer. When it comes to freezer space a hunter can never have too much.

If you are limited to the size of the freezer you can have in your living space you will want to make arrangements to store some with your friends and family. Wild game always makes a great gift but make sure you ask ahead of time as not everyone likes it.

What equipment do I need to process wild game?

Below is a list of Equipment and Supplies you will want to consider if you will be processing your own wild game.

Butchering Kit – Usually made up of various knives and meat saws used in processing wild game. They usually include skinning knives, de-boning knives, butchering knives, and a meat saw.

Sheets of Poly Urethane – Before hunting season I usually stop by a hardware store and pick up some plastic drop cloths for paint. They make a great base layer to cover your work bench or counter and keep cleans up quick and easy.

Cutting Boards – A couple cheap and inexpensive cutting boards are all you need when butchering your own wild game.

Freezer – You really can’t beat having a chest freezer at home if you are a hunter.

Vacuum Sealer and Bags – Not really a necessity but they do come in handy. A vacuum sealer will give you an air tight seal on your wild game packaging potentially increasing the amount of time it will keep in the freezer.

Butcher Paper and Tape – A great and inexpensive way for the at home wild game processor to wrap their own meat.

Plastic Wrap – Great as a pre-wrap if you are going to be using butcher paper as it will help you keep the air off the meat.

Freezer Bags – Good storage for when you turn your wild game into burger.

Meat Grinder – Perfect for making burger or sausage with your wild game scraps.

Sausage Press – Typically a cylinder used to push meat and spices into a sausage casing. They take a bit of practice but once you get the hang of it they are well worth the money.

Sausage Casings – Casings used to hold the meat and spices of your sausages. Usually from other animals like cows, pigs, and sheep.

Dehydrator – Perfect for making jerky at home. Can also be used to dry out fruit and vegetables.

Smoker – Usually electric or gas fired. These little units heat wood chips up to a temperature that they will smoke. They are perfect for making jerky, hams, or smoked fish.

Jerky Gun – Similar to a caulking gun. Your ground wild game can be loaded up into the gun and pressed through to make jerky, sausages, or snack sticks.

Cures and Spices – Can be purchased individually or as part of a kit to make jerky, sausages, or snack sticks.

Field Dressing Different Types Of Wild Game

Big Game Animals

big game animals

With big game animals it is best to field dress them as soon as possible. Almost immediately after the animal has passed it will begin several different biological process and one of which is bloating. The longer that you wait to field dress a big game animal the more difficult it will be. Leaving any type of wild game animal for too long will cause the meat to spoil and become unfit for human consumption. As an ethical hunter you have an obligation to ensure this does not happen. The sooner you can open the animal up and allow it to cool the less chance you will have of any of it going to waste.

When it comes to field dressing in the wild it is very hard to find the perfect location. You are unfortunately not going to be working in a health board certified butcher shop. You most likely going to be working at the site where the big game animal had died. You need to be as careful as possible when processing game outdoors to ensure the meat is allowed to cool and also that it stays clean from dirt, leaves, and other organic material. Also ensure you tag the animal as soon as possible with the proper tag in the proper place. The hunting tag is usually required to be affixed to the animal right after it is shot and usually can only be removed after transport to either your home or the butcher shop for processing. Review your local guidelines as they should cover what you are required to do in detail.

Tools To Bring For Dressing Wild Game

A Sharp Knife or Set of Sharp Knives – These are essential and should be carried with you at all times while hunting. I prefer to use a fixed blade knife for all my big game processing as compared to a folding knife it is very easy to clean and prevent bacteria and dirt from building up in areas not accessible to cleaning.

Surgical Or Rubber Gloves – It is a good idea to always have surgical or some type of rubber gloves with you when you are field dressing and skinning any type of wild game animal.

Clean Fresh Water – After you have field dressed a big game animal it is a good idea to flush the body cavity out with fresh cold water. During the late fall or early winter snow can be used as a substitute.

Game Bags – I have recently became a fan of game bags and ensure they are always in my hunting pack. They allow you to store and transport the game you have harvested in a clean and breathable bag. They are great for keeping debris and bugs off that fresh healthy organic meat you just harvested.

The Down and Dirty Of Big Game Wild Game Processing

Some larger animals like moose, elk, and bear you may have to clear an area around them to give yourself a better area to work. Smaller big game animals such as deer, antelope, or sheep can be dragged to a better location to be field dressed. From my personal preference I like to have the animal on a slight incline with the head of the animal at the higher end and the rear of the animal on the decline. I find with a little bit of gravity on your side the field dressing becomes a lot easier and you are less likely to accidentally cut into the stomach when you are breaching the abdominal wall. Again though you will be working in nature and will have to make it work with everything around you.

A good tip for field dressing big game animals is to always point the blade of your knife upwards when you are making any cuts through the animals hide. You will notice no matter how careful you are when field dressing wild game their hair or feathers will almost always get on to the meat. Pointing the blade of your knife upwards will prevent your knife for cutting the hair and feathers into smaller pieces making it easier to clean up prior to cooking.

If you are the type to hang your game in the field to dress them take as much caution as possible when hanging them on public land. A moment of inattention or a lapse in judgement by another hunter may lead to a tragic accident. If you are going to hang the animal to field dress and skin it, it’s best to do that on your own property in a barn, shed or garage. Or on private land where other hunters are not permitted.

Animals left over night to freeze become very difficult to skin and will require that you allow them to thaw in heated garage or similar space. It’s best to retrieve all animals you have hunted as soon as possible after you have shot it.  As hunters you may to run into situations where you shoot an animal at last light and are not able to retrieve it that day. You should make every attempt possible to retrieve that animal though even if you are there until late in the night. Not retrieving the animal could make you subject fine or penalty by your local fish and game department and allowing it to spoil is unacceptable.

One of the best techniques and probably the most common form of skinning a big game animal is to start by removing the lower portion of the legs at the knee joint. Feel around the knee for the joint between the upper and lower leg. Work your knife around the joint. When hunting the larger big game animals like moose and elk always insure you have a hatchet or meat saw with you. You will need it to remove the shins of the animals from the legs of the largest big game animals and you will also need it to split the rib cage. Smaller big game animals I find a bowie knife is usually sufficient to do both. Although a it never hurts to have a small handsaw handy when processing wild game.

Once you have freed up the lower half of the leg you can now begin to do your skinning. With the blade of your knife pointing upwards make a cut through the hide of the inside of one of the animal’s front legs until you reach the body cavity that is open from your field dressing. Pinch a corner of the hide on the leg and begin working the hide off and around the leg. Take your time and try to avoid cutting into the edible flesh. Once the front leg is done you can repeat this to the rear leg on the same side of the animal. If you can move the animal onto its side it will make the rest of your work a lot easier. Now you can work the hide off between the front and rear leg all the way up to the spinal cord of the animal. You just work your knife as carefully as you can between the hide and flesh. Once the hide on the one side is completely separated from the flesh all the way to the spinal cord I begin to remove the meat from that side and bag it in game bags for a clean transport home.

Youtube Videos To Assist In Field Dressing, Skinning, and Butchering Big Game Animals

Below are some instructional Videos from Youtube that will show you various techniques on how to field dress, skin, and butcher your own big game animals. We mainly feature deer on this video but most of the techniques hold true to all forms of big game hunting. Check out Youtube for the processing videos specific to the hunting you are planning on doing. Hunters from all over have posted some great videos to show you different techniques and tricks they use in the field.

Traditional Method Of Field Dressing Large Wild Game Animals – This is a great instructional video for first time hunters on how to properly dress deer, moose, and elk.

The Gutless Method Of Field Dressing – An alternative to the traditional form of dressing shown in the video above. The gutless method of field dressing is great to use on larger wild game or animals that have been shot behind the vitals and more in the stomach area.

Skinning From The Hanging Position – Great Instruction from Realtree Outdoors on how to skin a deer. Techniques are basically the same when the animal is on the ground out in the field as it shows the proper knife work needed.

Butchering Big Game Animals At Home – Real wild game processors giving good instruction on how to cut and wrap your wild game at home. Watch all volumes for a comprehensive guide on how to process your own wild game.

Field Dressing Wild Game Birds of North America

We have kind of grouped a lot of birds here together under the term wild game birds. Although they are completely different species the techniques you will use for dressing birds in general can be fairly similar and used on different species.

The highest meat yield usually found on a wild game bird is usually either on the breasts or the legs. This is why you will find a lot of the field dressing methods specifically work the inedible parts of the bird away from these areas.

Areas With Highest Meat Yields For Game Birds

The Breast

Typically has the highest amount of meat yield for both upland game birds, wild turkeys, and migratory waterfowl.

The Legs

Although the legs on most wild game birds have a lot less meat yield than the breasts there is still some very good eating to be done on the legs. Make sure you are in compliance with locals laws as wasting game meat may make you subject to fines or loss of hunting privileges. A lot of the smaller upland birds have good edible meat on their legs that most hunters do not take. A tip for the legs of smaller birds is to save them up and cook them as you would chicken wings. A little bit of hot sauce and some upland game bird legs make a great addition to any Superbowl Party.

Common Upland Game Birds Hunted In North America

Turkey – Throughout North America you will find several sub-species of Wild Turkeys including the Meriam, Rio Grande, Osceola, and the Eastern Wild Turkey.

Grouse – Common types of grouse you will find in North America are the ruffed, sage, spruce, and the blue or dusky grouse. Take note the Sage Grouse is a protected species in most areas.

Partridge – Both the Hungarian and Chuckar Partridge are common feathered game bird animals in North America.

Ring Neck Pheasants – One of our favorite game birds in North America. The lull between finding these birds only intensifies the rush when flush in the air.

Quail – Include the California, Gambles, Montezuma, Mountain, Scaled, and Northern Bobwhite.

Ptarmigan – Typically include the Willow, The Rock, and The White-tailed Ptarmigan.

Woodcock – A great little bird that spends the majority of its time in the spring and summer in the northern portion of the continent. As the weather turns bad it flies south to spend its fall and winters in the south.

Common Migratory Waterfowl Birds Hunted In North America


North American ducks are usually classified into four main categories. The Dabbling Ducks, The Diving Ducks, The Sea Ducks, and The Whistling Ducks. Most common migratory ducks taken are either classified as a Dabbling Duck or a Diving Duck. You will find that most hunters prefer the Dabbling Ducks as they are considered to be less gamey.

Common Characteristics Of Duck Classifications

Dabbling – Dabbling ducks submerge their head only into the water to reach aquatic plants to feed.

Diving – Completely submerge their entire body and swim to the bottom of the lake, pond, or waterway they are on to feed.

Sea – Mainly found on the coasts of North America. These ducks are also diving ducks.

Whistling – Mainly found in Mexico, Texas, and Florida these small ducks can be identified by their whistling sound.

Common Ducks That Are Hunted In North America

Mallards – Are easily one of the best eating ducks. The males are easily identified by their green head.

Teals – Includes the Blue-wing Teal, Cinnamon Teal, and The Green-wing Teal. Another of the better tasting ducks.

Wood Ducks – Drakes of the wood ducks have amazing colors on their faces and heads. They are easily identified by this.

Mergansers – Includes the Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, and Red-Breasted Merganser.

North American Geese – Includes the Brant, Canada Goose, Snow Goose, and White-fronted Goose. Geese throughout North America spend a large portion of their time on the land and graze upon grasses and grains. Wild Goose is not for everyone but can be enjoyable if prepared correctly. A lot of hunters I know like to make jerky with the geese that they harvest.

Cranes – Crane is considered to be the filet mignon of the sky. Most are not disappointed when they try crane. Two main types of Crane in North America and they are the Whooping and Sandhill.

*** One tip we will give you on preparing game birds specifically ducks, geese and migratory birds is to always be on the lookout for shot. As game birds are usually taken with a shotgun you are always going to run into an issue of having shot in the edible flesh of the animal. Checking the meat over thoroughly will help your guests get over the wild game taste and also help you save a little on your dental bills.

Techniques Used To Field Dress Wild Game Birds In The Field

Step On The Wings and Pull The Feet

A great technique for any grouse or pheasant hunter. Its a very quick and clean way to clean an upland game bird.

Plucking Ducks

Great Video From Youtube on how to pluck ducks. Throughout the video the hunter here will give you tips on how to pluck a duck like and expert.

Recipes For Preparing Wild Game

From the kill to the grill we try to bring you some our favorite wild game recipes. You can click on any of the images below to be taken to some truly wonderful wild game recipes.

Remember that any recipe with meat can be turned into a wild game recipe. Just substitute out the grocery isle ingredient for what you got on your own.

Happy Hunting.

If you have a great recipe of your own make sure you share it with us. We will post it and share it with the other hunters on the site.


Upland Game Bird Recipes

Preparing Wild Game In The Smoker

One of the most primitive methods for preparing wild game or fish is to smoke it. Smoking meat helps to prevent the meat or fish from spoiling and allows it to keep for longer periods without being frozen. Typically smoked fish and meat needs to be prepared in a brine mixture that includes both salt and water. Your brine mixture will also help the meat keep when it is outside of refrigeration.

Smoking meat can be done at one of two ways. You can hot smoke it or cold smoke it. When you smoke or hot smoke meat you are essentially slow cooking it. The meat picks up a lot of its flavor from the types of wood you choose to smoke. Hot smoking is typically done on meat and fish and it is done in a contained area to keep the heat in. Cold smoking removes the heat from the process and pumps the smoke into a contained area. Cold smoking is great process for nuts and cheese.

We will be adding or Meat Smoking section soon. Check back as we will be adding some smoking articles and recipes.

Bradley Smokers

Bradley Smokers Original Smoker Review – See what we thought of the Bradley Original Smoker and if it should be in your collection.

А Rеvіеw оf Вrаdlеу Dіgіtаl 6-Rасk Ѕmоkеr – The Bradley Digital 6 Rack will make great addition to any hunters cooking arsenal.

Вrаdlеу ВТІЅ1 Fооd Ѕmоkеr – Wіntеrtіmе Веnеfіts аnd Сhаllеngеs – A fall hunt usually means your preparing game in the winter. See how Bradley has you covered.

Вrаdlеу ВТІЅ1 Оutdооr Ѕmоkеr – Gіvіng Yоu Сlеаn, Νаturаl Flаvоrеd Ѕmоkеd Fооd – Ready to graduate from bbq. Get yourself a smoker.

Вrаdlеу Dіgіtаl Еlесtrіс Меаt аnd Fооd Ѕmоkеr – А “Ѕmоkіng” Gооd Тіmе! – Smoking is another method of set it and forget it.

Вrаdlеу Ѕmоkеr – Ноw tо Ѕmоkе Оr Rоаst Fооds Rіght Іn Yоur Оwn Васkуаrd – The hardest part of owning a smoker is keeping friends and family away at dinner time.

Еlесtrіс Ѕmоkеrs – Неаlthу аnd Vеrsаtіlе Сооkіng Unіts – In our opinion home smoked jerky is the most important food group.

Маstеrbuіlt Vs Вrаdlеу ВВQ Ѕmоkеr: Whісh Іs Веttеr fоr Сооkіng – Watch as these two smoking giants go head to head.

Quісk Оvеrvіеw оf thе Јіm Веаm Вrаdlеу Ѕmоkеr – Not only is Jim Beam great for drinking its also great for smoking.

Ѕmоkе Меаts аt Ноmе іn Yоur Вrаnd Νеw Вrаdlеу Оrіgіnаl Еlесtrіс ВВQ Ѕmоkеr – From jerky to hams you wont regret buying a home smoker.

Тірs аnd Тrісks оn Usіng Vаrіоus Rесіреs Wіth thе Вrаdlеу Dіgіtаl Ѕmоkеr – These are just a few tips and tricks from the pros.


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Wild Game Processing and Cooking Information and Tips
Make every non-hunter a fan of wild game with our recipes and tips to preparing wild game. We also invite you to submit your own recipes.