Field kit for field care
Field kit for field care
Once an animal hits the ground, there are a few things you’ll need to take it from “in the round” to ground round. Read on as we go over the tools of the trade, when to use them, and where they make sense to get your big game animal from the field to your home or butcher shop, in a manageable form for final processing.
You can’t begin gutting or breaking down an animal without a good knife. Several styles of knives exist. They have similar functionality, but their individual features may make them shine in different scenarios. Below are some of the most popular styles of cutlery to consider when prepping your pack:
- Fixed blade: Simple, strong, super rigid, can be sharpened, and ultra-versatile, they are truly one knife to do it all. Since the blade is always exposed, this style needs to be carried in a sheath. Unlike replaceable blade knives, fixed models require upkeep to maintain a sharp edge. Store a sharpener in your pack to keep your blade razor sharp while in the field.
- Locking folder: Locking folding knives have similar characteristics as a fixed blade knife but are more compact when folded and easier to carry in a pocket of your back, on your belt, or if they feature a clip, at the ready on the edge of your pants pocket. Folders are a classic design, but typically a bit heavier than other options.
- Replaceable blade knives: Scalpel sharp – because that’s essentially what they are and oftentimes ultralight, replaceable blade knives alleviate the need to carry a sharpener, know how to sharpen a knife or take the time to sharpen/touch up your blade. These minimalistic knives are optimal for those who want to shave weight and don’t want to fuss with sharpening in the field. Some models have brittle blades that can break when torsional force is applied. If the blade breaks and gets lost in the animal, it can be a hazard, so look for another kind of knife when jobs call for leverage to be applied, like working through a heavy ball joint. Replaceable blades do cost money over time, so keep that in mind.
- Knives with gut hooks: Some knives feature a gut-hook on the back of the main-blade, an auxiliary gut hook, or additional gutting blade with a rounded tip. These features are designed to prevent puncturing of the stomach/intestines, as to not create a mess and contaminate meat.
- Boning Knife: The longer blade length of a boning knife is super handy for boning meat at home/final cuts when vacuum sealing. Boning knives have similar attributes to a filet knife, but are more rigid. They work great for separating large muscle groups, cutting steaks and following bones to remove meat.
- Bone saw: Not a necessity, but can come in handy, particularly for taking the ribcage out whole. The ribcage can be an underappreciated part of the animal – often trimmed and relinquished to the grind pile. A tree saw is unfortunately not a bone saw. The aggressive nature of the teeth on most tree saws causes them to clog with meat and bone and hang up. A bone saw has fine teeth perfect for the task.
Outside of the cutting tools you decide will best suit your needs, a customized compilation of the following items will make the butchering and pack-out process more efficient and less of a chore.
Game bags: Game bags can be described as a pillowcase, purpose-built to fit game meat. They help ensure you end up with an optimal food product when it could be hours or days before you get it to a commercial cooler or your freezer. They keep bugs off meat, keep meat clean and free of dirt/debris, provide a way to hang meat away from predators, as well as promote air circulation to prevent spoilage. Many game bags come equipped with a draw string closure that doubles as a way to hang them from a tree limb in the field, or temporarily in your garage at home. Most quality modern game bags are made from a lightweight synthetic material that’s durable, washable and reusable.
Contractor-style garbage bags: Cooler temps and time of pack out permitting, you can put your meat-filled game bags in a contractor bag. This keeps your pack and other gear clean and sanitary. Contractor bags can be used for a multitude of things, including a tarp to set meat on during field processing, a makeshift umbrella for your meat - and in a pinch, rain gear, waders and or waterproof barrier between you and the ground. Keep one or two in your pack. You’ll likely be glad you did.
Tarp: Provides a place to set meat while butchering that is clean, keeps your tools visible, organized and prevents loss. Tarps can also be used to provide temporary shelter from the elements when working on an animal, glassing or in an emergency.
Backpack: Once you get your animal broken down, a quality backpack designed for carrying heavy loads as comfortably as possible is invaluable. There are two major styles of backpacks; external frame and internal frame. Less commonly used these days, external frame packs feature a tubular frame that exists outside of the generally square-ish main bag attached to it. The frame lends itself as a point for attaching items. Internal frame packs reign king in most of the hunt and backpacking world. As the name implies, the frame is located within the main bag, or the bag wraps around the frame in some fashion. Internal frame packs are generally lighter, have more features, are more adjustable, keep the load closer to your back, can feature a load shelf designed specifically for carrying meat, as well as separate from other gear you want to keep clean, and are much more sleek (Important in brushy conditions where you don’t want to hang up on your surroundings). Whatever style of pack you choose, fit is a major priority. Consult the manufacturer or a knowledgeable retail associate to find out if the pack you are interested in fits properly, or can be fitted to you.
550 cord or similar: With others or by yourself, some lightweight but strong rope/cordage is super handy for tying legs off to adjacent trees/rocks/branches to get them out of your way so you can work, as well as provide tension while cutting/skinning. You can also use it to hang quarters if your game bags do not have cordage integrated, lash meat, antlers or other items to you pack, and a multitude of other field tasks.
Nitrile Gloves: Keep your hands clean during butchering. Nitrile gloves are nice if there isn’t a water source nearby to wash up. Blood can dry your hands out. Gloves are a great preventative measure and carry a minimal weight penalty.
Headlamp: Often, we get our opportunity at an animal at last light or find it after darkness has fallen. Do not forget your headlamp for the night shift.
Fire Starter: If temps are cold, starting a fire close to where you are working can make the job much more pleasant. You should always have fire starter anyway. Make sure the fire is out with no chance of spreading before you depart.
Gambrel: If you can gut and get an animal out whole, a gambrel is great for hanging/hoisting your animal for skinning, cooling, aging and butchering. A gambrel is essentially a triangle-shaped piece of metal with angled hooks on each side. Depending on the model, it may feature a simple rope, pully system or electronic winch-style hoist to get the animal off the ground, secure and hanging. To use, make an incision through the thin hide just above the hock and between the tendon and bone on both hind legs. Slip the gambrel’s hooks in the incisions and hoist away. It is important to remember to not cut the tendon, as that will compromise the hanging point.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat, or in this case, a deer, elk, antelope, or other big game animal. Having the right tools for the job makes the process of processing a whole lot easier. Look to many of these items to build your ultimate kill kit.
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