Carry these essential tools for field dressing birds after a successful hunt
Upland birds offer a challenge to wingshooters and the reward of a delicious meal brought home from the field to the plate. Whether at a table, a tailgate, or around the campfire, savoring the taste of a game bird is the ultimate goal at the end of the day. Having the right field tools in your bird cleaning kit and using proper techniques when field dressing birds are both essential steps in honoring and taking care of the meat for consumption.
A sharp bird knife is critical
A bird hunter’s knife, whether it is a folding or fixed-blade knife, is the most important and versatile tool carried in the uplands, fields, woods, prairies, and mountains. Any knife can be a “bird” knife. As with all things, it is a matter of personal choice and style.
Renowned knife maker Mike Thompson (@upland_ish) prefers a knife with a thin blade (think in between a scalpel and filet knife) that can flex around bones. A knife like that allows for delicate work such as breasting and deboning. He also believes the knife should have a lanyard hole with a lanyard made of paracord and toggle that creates a loop to fit your hand. Not only does this provide safety holding onto the knife but added dexterity when attempting difficult cuts.
The most important aspect of a hunting knife is that it must be sharp. Having a sharp knife makes all the difference in the field and kitchen. Having a well-honed, sharp knife makes cutting and breasting any bird easier and much more efficient but it’s particularly useful for precision when cutting small, delicate birds such as doves, snipe, and quail. Sharpness also equates to safety; dull blades lead to accidents. A sharp knife is a safe knife when used with care.
Game shears are a useful companion to a bird knife
Another important tool to complement a good knife is having a pair of quality heavy-duty game shears in your kit. Those that scoff at the idea of including shears are missing out on their usefulness. Shears make dressing birds easier and cleaner. As Mike Thompson says, “shears are for the grunt work”. If spatchcocking or butterflying a gamebird, game shears are almost essential for removing the backbone, thus allowing the bird to be completely opened out and flattened.
Shears are useful for cutting through bone, wings, legs, and necks. Always check with local laws for rules and regulations to determine what needs to be present for legal identification of the game bird for possession and transportation.
Use a blade sharpener to keep your knives sharp
When it comes to keeping knives sharp, Thompson gives the best advice: “The best way to keep a knife sharp is to never let it get dull in the first place.” Having the ability to sharpen cutting tools is important and a necessity.
There are a variety of sharpening products designed to be used in the field, in bird camp, at home, or on the go. Most can be stowed away easily in a bird vest or pack. Companies such as Work Sharp offer several sharpening platforms that are made easy to use by providing built-in angle guides, allowing knives (flat, curved, or serrated) and tools (shears, axes, and hatchets) to follow the curve of the blade, providing a consistent bevel.
A sharpener will extend the life of the knife or tool. Available options from different manufacturers come with various features and a wide range of price tags. Do your research and find the one that meets your needs.
Assemble your field dressing tools in a kit for convenience
It’s wise to put together a cleaning kit to organize an array of items needed to process and clean game birds. Big game hunters do it; why shouldn’t bird hunters?
Essentials should include a knife, game shears, knife/tool sharpener, rubber field dressing gloves, wet wipes, and various sizes of plastic bags to store small game birds (doves, quail, snipe) to larger birds (grouse, pheasants, and chukars). Bags with write-on labels (add a black Sharpie) help note the date, location, and type of game bird for easy tracking. Make sure to restock consumables, such as plastic bags, gloves, and wipes, after each hunt.
Make sure to clean items, especially knives and tools, before returning them to the kit. For example, locking knifes collect all sorts of unsanitary bits in the mechanisms that can spread to the meat you are preparing.
Don’t forget to choose the right storage bag for the kit. This doesn’t have to get complicated. It can range from a zippered pouch to a large Ziploc plastic bag. Generally, speaking, I prefer to use a small zippered canvas bag. At just nine inches long, it is capable of carrying all my items. There are many companies that make small pouches that would work. Once selected, the tools carried in the kit should be capable enough to handle the cleaning and proper care of shot game birds.
Edgar Castillo is a recently retired law enforcement officer for a large Kansas City metropolitan agency. He also served in the United States Marine Corps for twelve years. Edgar longs for the colors of autumn and frosty, winter days so he can explore the landscapes in search of wild birds in wild places. His passion lies in the uplands as he self-documents his travels across public lands throughout Kansas hunting open fields, walking treelines, & bustin’ through plum thickets.