Gutting & Quartering Basics

Every year during seminars and shows, I get asked, “How do you gut an Elk?” My quick response is, “I don’t!” It is a great lead-in question that usually allows me to discuss and explain the benefits of Gutless Method. Over the years, there have been a few videos and numerous articles written on the subject. However, the best one to view is the one right here on Click here to view the Gutless Method.

When it comes to processing your elk, I highly recommend the Gutless Method for numerous reasons. The main reasons are (1) it allows you to not contaminate edible meat with entrails and their juices, and (2) you can get all of the edible meat off of an elk without gutting it, so why go through the process? There is no reason for me to go into detail on the specifics of the Gutless Method as Corey, Donnie, and Dave have done an excellent job explaining and performing the entire process in the video.

Prior to removing the 1st quarter of meat, I like to have my game bags laid out, easily accessible, and ready to go.  I use the Medium Quarter Game Bags by Caribou Gear. Four or five of these bags are more than enough for the four quarters, back straps, tenderloins, and burger meat. They fit easily in the bottom of my Sitka Bivy 45 pack and are lightweight, especially for such a heavy duty, washable game bag. Once the meat is placed in bags, I like to hang it (when able) 40-50 feet away from the carcass in a cool, dark area. Hanging improves cooling and drying by allowing air flow over the entire surface of the meat.

Once all the meat is placed into game bags, the work begins. Prior to placing any of the loaded game bags into my pack, I like to cover them with a heavy duty plastic contractor’s bag. Doing so may be shunned by some, but it prevents blood from soaking my hunting pack and allows me to hunt the next day without a blood-soaked, fly-and-bee-attracting pack. Typically, the first trip out will have us packing front quarters, back straps, tenderloins, and burger meat. The second trip typically has us packing out the hind quarters (proof of sex attached to one of them) and the head/antlers with pack frames. Depending on location and how many guy’s/gal’s you hunt with will determine how many trips it takes to get all the meat out of the field and back to camp, home, or the walk in cooler.

Once all of the meat is back to camp, I like to remove the game bags and hang the quarters and back straps (with no bags on) for 3-4 hours. Of course this is weather and insects permitting. I also have to make the decision depending on the weather/temperature to either (1) hang the meat in camp in the shade, (2) drive into the nearest town to hang the meat in a walk in cooler, or (3) bone the meat out and place it in the cooler. When I bone out the animal, I leave the meat in the largest portions/muscle groups as possible so I can properly “Dry Age” it when I get home or to my next destination. I also will cover the cooler with an old sleeping bag in an attempt to maintain a temperature below 40 degrees.

For more information on the benefits “Dry Aging”, awesome elk recipes, and unbelievable dry rub’s, visit Chef John McGannon’s website at or check out his articles in RMEF’s Bugle Magazine (Carnivores Kitchen).