"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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How To Dress Wild Game
Copyright © 2006 by Bill Scifres

With hunting seasons open for some species and the season openers for others just around the bend, I am often asked how one goes about cutting up the various animals for good consumption. 

I always answer that this procedure is pretty much the same for the four-footed critters, and not vastly different for the birds. After all, in the anatomy of such birds as ducks and geese the wings represent the frot feet of animals, and the (wings) are not quite as “meaty” as are those of chickens, ducks, geese and other big birds that are earthbound. But the meat of all birds--like the front legs of animals--still is quite tasty although their meat is sparse.

Starting with a good, sharp knife (it’s got to be sharp), I place the skinned and gutted small animal on it’s back on a good cutting board of at least half an inch in thickness. The procedure would be messy, if not impossible, with skin on and entrails still in the animal. Rigor mortise (stiffness of the muscle tissue will have set in. but this makes muscle tissue easier to cut.

I first cut off the two front legs because they are easier to remove. They are joined to the body by only a fragmentary bone, if any.  Turn the animal over in the second hand, and sort-of shave off the front lets (starting the cut between the body and the “shoulder” (top part of the leg), allowing the knife blade to remove the leg with a seesaw motion. It is largely void of meat.

Start on the back legs by reminding yourself that these legs are joined to the body by a bony, ball-and socket joint similar to the hip joint in man.  Finding and exposing this joint is easy by simply cutting from fore to aft at the edge of the body. Then reverse the cut, going from aft to fore. Now you have only to twist the leg to remove it. 

The entire back ordinarily is cut crosswise into two pieces. If you eat squirrel heads there are three pieces. If you cut the rear piece of the back into two pieces to serve more people, there will be four pieces. In addition to the cheek meat (very small but very tasty) or the head, this piece also contains the brain, which is quite tasty (if you like it). After the cheek meat is removed via hand-and-tooth combat, the top part of the skull is cracked with the hand end of a table knife and the brain dug out. This operation is not similar to eating pork brains. Also found on the interior surface of animals will be the kidneys (one on each side of the backbone. Surrounded by gobs of fat, which is very good when cooked on the piece of back.

Removing the “glands” on the four legs is said by many to improve the taste of the meat by eliminating wild taste. On the front legs the glands will be found between (maybe attached to the leg or body in the form of gray matter. You will find the quarter-inch gland of the back legs in the form of a little cartilage by making a crosswise cut just behind the joint (knee). I suspect (don’t know) that glands are present in all animals. They are in squirrels.

So there you have it. Cutting up a small animal for cooking is simple. You will have two front legs, two back legs, and two-to-four back pieces, including the head. Ordinarily, The back, which includes the “so-called” back strap (two lengthwise rolls of meat as big as a man’s thumb on the two sides of the back bone), is the best part of the back pieces. However the sides (bacon) is edible and good tasting.


Indiana University Press has just released a guidebook on Indiana nature preserves. It has beautiful photos by several volunteers, and is a handy reference to the remaining wild spots around the state. 

The Nature Conservancy of Indiana is officially the "author" of The Nature Conservancy's Guide to Indiana Preserves that covers the nature preserves, including some places to hunt and fish. 

To obtain a copy of the book, contact the I.U. Press at Bloomington, or Chip Sutton at The Nature Conservancy office in Indiana (317) 951-8818. It retails at $27.95, but I hear better prices can be found. It is a most worthy piece of literature.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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