I slowly want to get prepared for my trip to the USA. I think about going for an elk. So I asked myself what may be the best way to quarter an elk in the field. What are the basic steps and techniques to do so?


Here is how Bob Robb field dresses his elks. Warning: There are images of actual elks being quartered.

Secure the Elk

Before any cutting begins, you have to secure the elk, which often has expired on a steep sidehill. That’s where the cord or rope comes in, used to tie antlers or legs to a tree or bush to hold the animal in place as you work. Point the butt downhill if you can. It should be said that butchering an elk is much easier with two people, so if you can get some help, you’re advised to do so.

Field Dress or Quarter Your Elk?

There are two ways to clean any big game animal, including elk. You can do the basic field-dressing routine, which means first gutting the animal. Or you can take the quarters, backstrap, and neck off without gutting. I do both, depending on circumstances.

The basic field dressing procedure is the same as it is with deer and other big game, so we won’t detail it here. You remove the innards, including the anus, taking care not to puncture the bladder or stomach and spilling their contents onto the meat. Suffice it to say, this is not a good idea. Make sure you remove the heart, lungs, and esophagus.

I field dress an elk when I am not going to be able to finish the job right away, as when I might have to leave the carcass to cool overnight before packing it out. When I do this I lay the animal on its back, then cut the front shoulders so they lay out away from the carcass, and cut the hams to the ball joint so they too, are opened up enough to cool down.

However, these days I prefer to simply quarter the animal without exposing his guts. It’s less messy and smelly, and you don’t lose any meat.

To do that, roll the elk on one side and use your knife to remove the hind quarter through the ball joint, and front shoulder by cutting behind the scapula, leaving the hide on until the quarter is either hung or ready for boning and insertion into the meat sacks. That helps keep dirt and crud off the meat itself. Next remove the backstrap, half the neck meat, and the meat off the outside of the rib cage or, if you like, use your saw to cut the ribs completely off. I rarely do this, though. You then roll the elk over and repeat. To get the tenderloins out — they’re located inside the carcass, on each side of the backbone — use the lightweight saw to cut through the tops of the rib cage and remove them this way. When ready for bagging, skin the quarters out. Voila! One butchered elk, without the big mess of field dressing it first.

I virtually always bone my elk meat out, for two reasons. One, it gets rid of excess weight that I don’t have to pack down the mountain. And two, removing the bone opens the meat up and facilitates cooling. Thick chunks of elk meat, like those found on the hams and neck, will spoil quickly near the bone unless they are cooled properly. Boning helps this process. Hunters with the luxury of pack horses often like to keep the bone in, as it can make loading quarters into pack boxes easier.

Some hunters like to take the liver, heart, and tongue, all of which make some fine eatin’. An elk liver is about the size of a football, the heart like an elongated softball, so you’ll have plenty of extra packing if you want them. I often do.

When I hunt for large game, I go with some buddies of mine and we split up while hunting. We only take one kill at a time and everyone helps in the field dressing and quartering. The meat is divided up evenly. It is a lot of weight to carry out of the bush by yourself.

Your Elk is now quartered and ready to be tied onto your framepack. I would use a cotton rope as a nylon rope will stretch and become loose during the trip out. Tie it on securely and have fun. If the Elk weighed 600 pounds live, you are looking at nearly 100 lbs. on your back to pack out.

You will have to make 4 trips, and each trip gets harder and harder. That is why you may want to hang the remaining quarters (with block and tackle) if you are near trees with branches to support them, to allow them to cool off. - Quartering an Elk

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