The ability to live off the land could mean the difference between life and death. For thousands of years, our forebears managed to thrive off the bounty of nature, and there is no reason why you cannot.
All you need is a little bit of knowledge and the willingness to get blood on your hands. Nature will supply the rest.
This article will deal with field dressing a rabbit. Typically this would take place out in the woods or wherever the hunt took place, but on the evening I hunted this rabbit, it was pouring rain, so I prepared it inside.
The steps and the basic idea remains the same. If relevant, I will mention some differences to keep in mind when working in the field versus on a table.
Firstly: Hunting knives are great, but when working with small game, a small sharp knife will work much easier. A folding knife works well, but always accumulates hair and blood inside, so be sure to clean it well afterward.
Secondly: I never process animals without a sturdy pair of scissors and also a small saw. Knives are great for cutting meat, but scissors sometimes provide greater control for cutting off tails or limbs, particularly when field dressing. Small saws allow you to easily cut through strong pelvic and chest bones in medium-sized animals.
Have some bags handy to put the processed meat into. It keeps the dirt off, but even more importantly, contains the blood and fluids the carcass loses. You will likely wash your meat later, but without bags, you will need to was your backpack as well.
General Remarks on Rabbits and Hares
The first thing to know is that their skin is much softer than you imagine. It’s also very loose around the body and upper parts of the limbs. The skin on the lower limbs is so tight, it’s not worth the effort to try and remove.
You will see when pulling the pelt off, it will naturally tear at the lower limbs. The part of the lower limbs with skin on is cut off with the scissors in totality and left for scavengers.
Check the liver and intestines for signs of diseases or parasites. Even though you are not trained, sometimes a major problem will be obvious. I don’t eat anything I cant trust.
IMPORTANT: White spots on the liver could be signs of tularemia. Immediately discard the rabbit and wash your hands with soapy water. DO NOT EAT!
Field dressing typically refers to the removal of the organs of hunted animals. Large animals present challenges when it comes to removing the skin or processing the animal in the, because of their size and weight. For smaller animals, this is not a problem.
You can remove the organs only and process the animal later, or process it entirely and just cook later.
I am going to start with the removal of the skin, but you can skip that part if you want to leave the skin on and remove it later.
The best way to remove a rabbit or hare’s skin is to grab ahold of the pelt just behind the neck, and using your knife or scissors, cut a notch into it. Insert your fingers into the hole and pry it open.
Stretch the hole until you can get a few fingers into it, and then peel the entire skin back toward the tail in one smooth movement.
I still recall the first time I did this. I was surprised at how easy the skin tears, and also how pulling the skin off was almost like pulling off a pair of pants.
The entire pelt just slips of the rabbit. It will stop once you get to the lower extremities, but just pull hard and tear it off.
Repeat the process for the skin on the torso and shoulders, pulling it off toward the head.
Skinn will remain on the extremities of the limbs, the head, and the tail.
Use your scissors and knife to remove the tail, extremities of the limbs and also cut off the head. I cut close to the head, but you can remove the neck and head if you prefer.
Next, you need to open the intestinal cavity to remove the organs. Cut a small notch just below the chest bone, and then cut toward the pelvis.
Because plants have low nutritional density, herbivores always have a lot of intestines that are filled with partially digested plants. Be sure not to cut or puncture intestines.
When you get to the pelvis, you will notice that the colon passes through a hole in the pelvis. You can cut through the pelvic bone and cut out the entire anus.
I don’t go that far. I pry the organs out of the chest cavity, and once I have all the organs outside of the rabbit, I just cut the colon where it terminates. Cut as close to the skin as possible.
At this stage the organs will all be outside, intact, and in one small heap. I recommend just drawing them apart to inspect.
White spots on the liver may be signs of tularemia. DONT EAT ANY PART OF THE ANIMAL. If the rabbit has tularemia, discard everything.
Most of the meat on a rabbit is in its lower extremities. It has well-developed thighs and fillets on the lower back. The torso, including the chest shoulder, and upper arms also have meat, but not that much.
I cut the thighs individually. I cut the fillets and lower back in one portion, and I let the upper body remain intact. You can portion this according to your preference.
If you want to cook rotisserie style on a skewer above a fire, leave the carcass intact.
Related: The Lost Art of Scratch Cooking
The only organs I eat from a rabbit is the liver and the heart.
In the preceding section, I started with removing the skin. You could leave the skin onto remove at a later stage, but in all herbivores, I would remove at least all the intestines as soon as possible.
Fermenting vegetation in the intestines starts producing gas real fast. This could lead to bloating or the colon being evacuated at an inopportune moment, resulting in poop being blasted onto surfaces that you would rather keep clean.
When field dressing, you could also leave the carcass in one piece. If you intend to cook your rabbit in a pot, like a stew, you can quarter it now or later.
If you want to cook the rabbit rotisserie style, leave it in one piece. It’s after all your meat, and you can do with it as you please.
Animals that grow up wild have less fat and darker meat than domesticated or cage-raised animals. Higher protein means more nutrition and also feeling satiated for longer.
Cook and enjoy. As with all venison, cook it well to ensure all parasites are neutralized. Bon Apetit!
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