How to field dress a moose

Warning: Graphic photo documentary of the moose butchering process

One of my great life-skills mentors, Clarence, and me with my downed moose.

The moose is the largest extant species in the deer family. On average, an adult moose stands 1.8–2.1 m (6–7 ft) high at the shoulder. Males weigh 380–720 kg (850–1580 pounds) and females weigh 270–360 kg (600–800  pounds). Typically,  the antlers of a mature specimen are between 1.2 m (3.9 ft) and 1.5 m (4.9 ft). Behind only the  bison, the Moose is the second largest land animal in both North America and Europe (Wikipedia).

In light of the above statistics, it is not surprising that it is once the hunter’s moose is ‘on the ground’ that the real work begins! Processing 1000 pounds of animal (give or take a couple hundred pounds!) is not for the faint-hearted.

When my brother heard I was going moose hunting, he was quick to advise me that the guys he works with, who also hunt, said I should buy a ‘Dewalt Cordless Sawsall’ in order to make the butchering process easier. However, I knew that Clarence and David would view such a tool as an unnecessary frivolity, and that they would likely teach me how to do this with minimal equipment! As my friend who knows these men well confirmed, “You couldn’t find better teachers, because they will not only teach you amazing bush skills but they’ll also teach you to be tough.” Part of the requisite ‘being tough’ is doing without a lot of luxuries.

Besides Dave’s favourite ‘never-leave-home-without-one (or two)’ Gerber Exchange-a-blade saw, nothing more than a pocket knife and 13 pillow cases are required to fully dress out and process a moose in the field.

Step one: Remove the hide from the moose.

 

Start just above the tail, making sure to cut through the skin but not into the layer of sub-cutaneous fat.

Start skinning just above the tail of the moose and all the way up the back to the head between the ears. Once you have the skin off the exposed side of the animal, it is time to pull it over on to the other side. Repeat the process of skinning on the other side until you have the whole ‘cape’ removed.

Step two: Secure the moose by tying it to something steady.

Roll the moose on to his back so his legs are in the air, and tie the two front legs off  with your parachute cord (see hunting lesson one: the possibles bag) to something solid. In our case, we had one leg tied off to the quad bike and another to a small, twiggy bush. Because this is a big maneuver, I was fully involved and could not take a photo!

Step three: Cut the trachea high in the throat.

 

Dave cutting through the throat meat to remove the trachea. Note the parachute cord tied to front legs in background.

Cut through the throat muscle to get to the trachea and esophagus. Cut through both tubes to free them from the moose. They will be pulled out, along with the other gut contents, through the belly at a later stage in the process.

Step four: Retain proof of the sex.

Proof of sex: exposed penis hanging down with each testicle laying on belly.

Be careful not to lose the penis or testicles until you get the moose home, because ‘proof of sex’ is required by law if you are checked by the Conservation Officer. Cut the hair from the sex glands and expose them, laying one testicle to each hind quarter.

Step five: Open the belly.

Clarence demonstrating how to cut through the moose's belly.

Carefully cut through the belly skin, being sure not to cut any of the gut contents. Begin at the pelvis and work your way up to the rib cage. It is particularly important not to cut through the intestines. Note the tiny pocket knife in Clarence’s hand; it is the only knife I’ve ever seen him use. This is what he butchers all his chickens and turkeys with as well!

84 year old Clarence still going hard and working his way up the belly cut.

Step six: Cut through the breast bone to open up the chest cavity.

Dave hand sawing his way through the breast plate of my moose.

This is the first moment you need to get out your Gerber Exchange-a-blade-saw. Cut through the breast bone, being careful not to damage the guts inside the chest wall. Once the breast plate is completely opened, finish cutting through the belly, meeting the chest wall cut.

Step seven: Haul out the guts.

My right index finger is in the hole where my bullet when through the moose's lungs.

Taking a good grip on the trachea (I cut a small hole in the trachea just large enough to put my fingers in and get a better grip on it), begin to pull the guts out of the moose away from the chest towards the belly. You will have to cut through the diaphragm in order to get the lungs and heart through into the belly cavity. Note the blood on the side of my cheek. Put there by Dave to indicate the first part of my initiation into ‘the wolf pack’; the rest of the initiation required me to eat the some of the heart and liver!

 

Hauling out the guts is a team effort!

Clarence is cutting through the diaphragm so I can get the lungs, heart and trachea through into the belly cavity. Once complete, we then haul out all the contents from the body onto the snow.

Step eight: Cut through the pelvis and anus.

 

Dave beginning the pelvis cut for me.

Be careful not to cut through any intestine when you cut through the pelvis bone and around the anus.

 

Gutted moose held open for quick cooling.

Because it was nearing dark at this stage, we took the heart, liver and tenderloins back to camp, and I had the first taste of my moose that very night!

 

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19 Comments

Filed under Animal issues, Butchering, Educational, Gathering from the wild, How to..., Hunting, Moose, Wild game

19 responses to “How to field dress a moose

  1. That is absolutely amazing. Amazing. I love the step-by-steps you post. Terrific. I didn’t find it all that graphic, but … I guess I wouldn’t. Happy Holidays, and have a grand Yule!

  2. I am consumed with envy, the culmination of a great adventure.
    Massive congratulations and, of course, a cool yule to you and the boys.
    SBW

  3. Wow great post. The pics are helpful to those who havent done it before. I get all my knives for dressing at Smokey Mountain Knife Works and they have served me well on all my hunts.

  4. Excellent post – how much meat does Clarence say it will yield? I’m curious how close moose is to beef.

    Also curious about any use of bones for broth and hide for tanning?

    Again – great post! And not too graphic at all.

    • Dave estimated that got roughly 500 lbs of boneless meat (but I didn’t weigh it). Used the bones to make soup stock and treats for the dogs and the heart and liver we ate at camp. As we took the cape off he asked what I was going to do with it. I said I didn’t know but that having a vest or something made of it would be nice. Clarence immediately offered to get the hide made into a jacket as his gift to me, “For my effort.” He decided that right there in the field! The woman who is making the jacket is the daughter of the woman who made Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s buckskin jacket that he is wearing in a famous photo of him canoeing.

  5. Well done!! I’ve never seen the parachute cord idea to keep the legs apart – makes lots of sense as it’s often a struggle to manage them. Also not used to seeing the skin off at that stage, which also makes sense for cooling. We normally wait an extra few minutes and skin them hung up back at ‘camp’, letting the weight of the hide assist in the process, winching it up as we go. So great to see a post on this, kudos.

    Have a great holiday season!!!

    • With Dave being a professional taxidermist, the skin is the first off of all the animals we deal with. Since my moose was taken close to camp (and I wanted to learn to field dress) we did it there where it ‘landed’. His brother also got a moose a day or two after mine and we hauled that one back to camp and hung it. But, the hide still came off first!

      Merry Noel to you and your family!

  6. I’m very impressed! It’s been years since I had moose meat, my Dad brought some home from a hunting trip in Alaska…jeez, maybe 15 years ago . You will certainly be feeding well this winter, that’s for sure.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this, another, excellent tutorial on processing meat. Now you have me eyeing the moose that has been hanging about our yard.:) She’s safe, she brought a little one with her.

  7. tony knight

    Hi Kristeva
    I must congratulate you on your explanation and photos of how to field dress a moose. It reminds me of my survival training in the Royal Air Force- although we were dealing with rather smaller animals- vis a vis a rabbit!

    Forgive me if you know already- but have you heard of the drink moosemilk- it was given to me by a Canadian exchange officer. It is 1 x part Baileys, 1 x part Tia Maria, 2 x parts Vodka and 2 x parts Dark Rum mixed with milk and ice cream. We used to smuggle it into macdonalds and add it to their milkshakes!

    Have a Very Merry Christmas and Prosperous New Year

    Tony

    • Hey Tony,

      That’s hilarious. You’d have to shoot a whole bunch more bunnies than I would ‘mooses’ to survive, but otherwise… it is exactly the same thing! I’ve never had the pleasure of Moose Milk so thanks for the recipe. I’ll have to give it a go now. It must have been borne out of what every Canadian has in their liquor cabinet. Given that it is cold out, I might just throw it in my coffee (in lieu of ice cream, brrr).

      Merry Christmas to you and Jo (and all the gals!)

      Kristeva

  8. Mitch

    Hello

    Wow wat an effort That must have taken a long time, And your right it is a team effort pulling the guts out.
    The biggest i have ever done was a deer And even that was a hard job.

    Hope you enjoy your tasty moose in the freezing winter.

    Hope you had a wonderful christmas and Enjoy the New year Lets hope its a good one.

    Mitch

  9. Hi Kristeva -

    Congrats on the successful hunt. Glad to have found your blog!

    Tovar

  10. Wow, Kristeva–that really makes me miss my time in Alaska!

    What are your plans for the parts? Did you do anything special with the intestines and stomach, like meat casings?

    I remember one of the delights of my stay with an Athabaskan family for a week in October, was their own delight in sharing the roasted moose nose with me–it was truly an honor. Moose nose reminded me of the beaver tail I had earlier in spring. Kind of like fungchaw (Cantonese for Phoenix’s Claws) braised chicken feet served at dimsum restaurants here in San Francisco.

    Great finding your site–looking forward to your installments!

    Stop over sometime and say, hello, at http://corksoutdoors.com/blog/

    btw, those moose hides make great mukluks and knee-high mocassins!

    Cheers,
    Cork

    • Hey Cork,

      We left the stomach and intestines for the birds and other critters. The bones we brought out and canned soup broth. We made sausage but with storebought casings. The hide is being made into a jacket for me. It was Clarence’s offering to me ‘for my effort’. He was so impressed with me coming along with them and learning all this that he offered this as a gift. The woman who is making it is the daughter of the woman who made Pierre Trudeau’s jacket. So, I’ll be touching greatness when I wear it!

      cheers,

      Kristeva

  11. Wow, what an adventure and a great harvest!

    Congratulations and I hope you have many more successful quests for food and all the excitement and camaraderie that goes with it.

  12. I’ve been looking so many places for thsi information.

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