Field dressing is the act of removing the paunch, or entrails, from the body cavity of a downed game animal. It is the best way to cool down a game animal in the field. When field dressing any animal, take great care not to cut through the intestines, bladder or stomach area, as urine and other sources of bacteria can cause contamination. Be careful with knives - a good field-dressing knife is very sharp.
To field dress big game, such as moose or caribou, you will need to make a cut in the skin starting just above the anus, and going right up to the base of the animal's jaw. This will allow you to remove the internal organs from the body cavity. Once the initial cut is made, take your time cutting the entrails from the backbone. When done properly, the entrails should come out as one large mass.
Most big game animals have scent glands on their hind legs. The glands excrete a penetrating odor or musk. Avoid touching exposed meat if you touch these areas. Leave the glands on, and skin them off as you skin the entire hide later on.
Field dressing of small game is a similar process. The initial cut is made from above the anus right to the breastbone. With one hand holding the animal, use your free hand to take out the internal organs from the body cavity. Once the animal is field dressed, allow the meat to cool in a well-ventilated area.
Field dressing a game bird takes a different first step. Before making the initial cut, you will need to pluck the feathers from the bird's belly to expose the skin. The cut is made below the breastbone - you may then pull out the internal organs with your hands. Once the bird is field dressed, allow the meat to cool in a well-ventilated area.
When transporting or in possession of a migratory bird, federal law requires that one fully-feathered wing be left naturally attached to the bird for the purposes of identification.
The wing and feathers can be removed from the bird either for immediate cooking, or after the bird has been taken to the hunter's residence for preservation (freezing).