Warning: This article covers graphic content not suitable for children or the squeemish
I learned this method of dressing animals on a Wyoming Pronghorn hunt. Antelope meat is VERY good, but only if you take care of it immediately. This means getting it on ice ASAP! I started quartering the animals with the "gutless" method and getting them on ice. Boy since we started doing this our antelope have never tasted better. I've gotten alot of "woah" and "how did you do that???" from other hunters or landowners when they see me take a critter apart in a couple minutes and deposit all the good eats on ice. Also, who really wants to gut a stinky antelope? LOL not me.
The "gutless" method can be done two ways, either by skinning the legs before removal or skinning them after removal. Personally I usually remove the quarters with the hide on to keep the meat cleaner, then skin each leg out after.
You can start with either the loins, front or rear quarters. There is no right or wrong way to do it. I usually do one sides front, same sides rear, flip the animal followed by the remaining front and finally the remaining rear. Then I cut out the loins and call it good.
For this example I also took pictures of how to cape an animal (for another guide) so the front quarters at least are already skinned. Hide on or hide off the legs, it really doesn't mater for the actual extraction of the quarters.
Lets begin. With the animal on its side, grab a frontleg and lift it up and away from the body. Place your knife into the "armpit" and cut right in the crease, angling slightly towards the ribcage. Cut away the meat, cartilage where it meets the ribcage. There are no bones in the shoulder of deer or elk that attach the front legs to the ribcage, its all held together with muscle and cartilage!
Keep lifting the leg as you continue making cuts as needed to free the leg.
Continue working your way across until the leg comes free from the ribcage. Most of it will cut free very easily, some cartilage can be stubborn but a good sharp knife will get through it.
Once the leg is free take care of it how you wish, either into game bags, coolers, panyards or whatever. You can even debone it now that its free and is actually alot easier to work with (hang it in a tree so you dont have to bend over while working with it).
Depending on the size of the animal I'm dressing, I'll either process an entire side then roll it over and do the other, or you can do the fronts then the rears. The order is largely irrelevant. Here I am continuing with the other front quarter only because for the caping guide I skinned out the other leg and wanted to get it in the cooler as soon as possible, antelope is time critical when it comes to getting the meat cooled quickly. Generally I remove one entire sides quarters before flipping it over.
As with the other front leg, pull up on the leg and cut away the meat and cartilage along the ribcage where it attaches.
Continue carefully until it comes free. Once it does, store as needed.
Thus far it should have been amazingly easy! Those front quarters come off with very little effort. The hinds are slightly more tricky, but they come off nearly as easy!
Be aware that some states require proof of sex remain attached to the hind quarters, if this is the case in your state split the scrotum in half and leave half attached to each hind quarter!!!
Ok lets begin by talking about how to do the hind quarters. These are attached to the pelvis by a hip bone and socket. Inside of the ball and socket is a tendon that must be cut. It isn't terribly hard, but I recommend in doing this for the first time, you just take your time. After doing it once, any future animals will seem easy. Also I really recommend you use your finger or thumb to feel around where the bones are so you don't dull your knife too much. There is also a bone at the top of the pelvis that we need to cut around, it is easily felt with your fingers to identify and then cut around.
Start by having someone lift the leg up off the body, or tie it to a bush / tree to keep tension on it. This frees up both hands and makes things alot easier. You can at this point skin the quarter before removal, or after. I chose to skin it after.
Begin by cutting along side the penis, back towards the rear of the animal.
Take short careful strokes.
Cut the skin towards the front of the hind quarter, and begin cutting the meat downward towards the hip and body. Be careful to keep your knife away from the belly area as we don't want to puncture anything.
Right in the middle of the leg is the leg / hip bone socket. You will be able feel it with your fingers. Moving the leg back and forth will also allow you to identify where this socket is. Cut the meat away around it, exposing the socket itself. With some minor pressure pulling on the leg, the socket will open up allowing you to cut the tendon inside (visibly right at the tip of the knife)
Carefully cut any muscle or cartilage around the ball and the bone should pop free from the socket.
Next identify the pelvic bone that sticks out, it will be easily found by feeling around with your finger. If not continue to cut the muscle away until you do. Here I am pointing to the tip of it with my finger. You will want to cut around this bone to free the rest of the hind quarter.
Here you can clearly see the pelvic bone exposed. Continue to cut the meat away from the hip.
A few more careful slices and the entire quarter comes cleanly off. Process it further how you want.
Flip the animal over and repeat for the other side.
Cut along the penis down until you reach the ball joint. Carefully cut the muscle around the joint until the ball begins to pull out, cut the tendon inside.
Continue to cut the muscle until you reach the pelvic bone, then cut carefully around it.
Continue cutting muscle away from the pelvis until the quarter comes free. Process as needed.
Thats it! Not terribly hard was it? We are not done yet however, the best eating part still needs to be removed, the tenderloins.
Removal of the tenderloin / backstraps. As with the other steps, it can be done at any point but I usually leave it for last.
Begin by cutting the skin enough you can access the tenderloin. Next cut along the spine from the hip up towards the shoulder.
Using your fingers, carefully pull the loin away from the spine, and carefully cut the meat loose in small tiny knife stokes. This isn't a job to rush so take your time. It is hard to get it started, but once you do it comes off quite easily.
Repeat for the other side of the loin.
That's pretty much it! After a couple practice tries you should be able to do a deer or antelope within 10 minutes or so... yes it is that fast. The great thing is if you have a gutshot animal, you have almost zero chance of getting the fluids on your meat.
The downside to this method? Well there actually is one... the Fillet Minion. It is located inside the body cavity opposite the tender loins. For small animals like antelope I don't feel its worth the effort to remove. For deer I always remove it as its my most favorite cut of meat. For Elk its not even a question, I'd rather have that cut than any other.
You can extract it either by traditional field dressing or you can remove it actually after doing the gutless method but its fairly tricky. I do not have pictures of how to do this but you position the animal on its belly with the back in the air. Cut along the spine from where the last rib ends back towards the pelvis. Be very careful you dont puncture the internals. You can then reach up in the hole and cut free the Filet. Repeat for the Filet on the other side. I'll be blunt, this is tricky stuff. You better have a good idea of what the Fillet Minion is, how its attached and how to cut it free. This is good knowledge to have but best learned by removing it from traditionally field dressed animals.
***Disclaimer: Since I released this guide I've recieved several points of critism, thats perfectly fine, everyone has an opinion. A few points are well justified and worth bringing up.
1) Keep as much hair as possible off the meat. Sounds like a no brainer but in reality things are not so simple. The day this antelope was shot it was incredibly windy, gusting up to 35mph. Antelope hair is extremely brittle and dislodges easily, add in some high winds and thats why you see hair on the meat. I was able to wash off these quarters about 30 minutes later when we got back to the ranch house. Hopefully you dress your animals in better conditions.
2) If you touch the animal anywhere with a hand, do not touch the meat. Again this is a means to reduce contamination. Wearing several sets of laytex gloves would help when you need to transition from touching the leg to touching meat.
3) Proof of sex. Some states require proof of sex remain attached to the meat. This is easily done by splitting the scrotum in half and leaving it attached to each hind.
4) Knife cuts. If you cut from under the skin to the surface, you will cut less hair and have less problems with hair getting on the meat as well as making it easier for a taxidermist to hide the cut marks.
Good tips, thanks for those who suggested them!
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