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Skinning and Cleaning Animals

by Frank Sherwood

Before I start to explain how to skin and clean an animal, never forget that you have removed a living, breathing creature from the flow of life. Whether it's a beetle or a buck, it has the same spirit and not to utilize the whole animal would be a waste. Give thanks and appreciate that a living being gave up its life for you.

Most animals, regardless of size, are done basically the same way. One of the most important things to remember is to take care and not puncture any organs with a knife while skinning or cleaning. By being careful, you'll not contaminate the edible parts with urine, feces or any other bad substances; also, take care not to spread these substances with your hands or knife. For example, deer have scent glands on the inside of their rear legs. If you touch these and then handle the edible parts, they will spoil quickly.

Most animals, except for fish, will need to be skinned out. Frogs and reptiles should always be skinned. Slit their skin down the belly and up to the chin, then peel away the skin with your fingers. Birds may taste better if they are plucked, but it takes a lot less time to skin them out.

Now, let's skin an animal. Lay it on a slight incline, having the head uphill. With a male animal, tie off the penis with string or cord to prevent urine from getting on the meat. Then, starting at the tail, make a cut just beneath the skin all the way to the chin. Next, cut down the inside of each leg to the joint above each hoof or foot. Once this is done with smaller animals, just peel the skin off like a coat. With larger animals, use your fist and work the hide off, using a knife only in the real tough spots so you won't cut the hide and ruin it for when you brain tan it.

To clean an animal, make a cut just in front of the anus and sex organs, opening up the stomach cavity, past the breast bone. Be careful not to cut deep enough to slice any of the organs. Next, cut around the anus and free up the sex organs, tying off any tubes that leak wastes.

Now, cut through the diaphragm and reach up, finding the wind pipe and gullet. Cut these and pull them out with most of the rest of the internal organs following along.

Pull everything out, leaving it below the animal. Put all the edible organs in a separate container so they won't get contaminated. If some meat has been contaminated, it will turn rancid fast. If it does, cut out the bad section along with any badly scarred tissue or ulceration. Use your eyes and your nose. If it looks, tastes, or smells bad, cut it out.

Now, prop open the chest cavity with a stick. Let the animal cool in the open air, yet in a protected area to keep it out of the rain. In cooler temperatures, about 40 degrees (F) or less, it could hang for a few days without spoilage. Make sure to keep it off the ground, away from the critters. In hotter weather the meat will spoil much quicker and flies will start to lay eggs on it. The maggots are not a sign of spoilage, but in the warm weather you'll want to utilize the animal quicker to prevent spoilage.

From The Tracker magazine, Summer 1983, published by the Tracker School.
For more articles from The Tracker magazine, visit the Tracker Trail website.