Once you’ve shot a bear, field dress it immediately in order to maintain its integrity for taxidermy purposes and quickly chill it down. A sharp knife, sturdy string, and paper toweling will come in handy during this step.
If you plan to have the paws preserved, keep them attached to the hide; your taxidermist will appreciate this gesture.
When hunting bears, if successful at snaring one you must be ready to field dress it quickly as soon as it arrives at camp or upon your return from hunting expeditions. Otherwise the animal could quickly spoil. Skinning, quartering and placing it into a cooler with ice should occur as soon as possible depending on weather and transportation factors; depending on where it takes place this may take place on site or after returning back home to camp.
Field dressing a bear involves removing its hide, guts and internal organs for proper field dressing. Doing this correctly takes more skill and knowledge than hunting whitetail deer; any failure could have serious repercussions.
As soon as your feet and ankle joints have been removed, work on the legs more easily by working around ankle bones without exposing any. After you’ve finished skinning them off, move onto working on their head and neck; skinning bears is relatively straightforward whether done manually or using a bone saw (which would work better for larger animals).
Once the skull is skinned, you can move on to skinning the neck. An effective technique for this step involves using a stick to push out neck muscles so you can see where to cut. After you’ve successfully taken out both jaws and necks, removing the rest should come easily.
Next, it will be necessary to separate the stomach and reproductive organs from the carcass. To do this, roll the bear onto its back with spread hind legs (tied securely to adjacent trees or supported by hunting partners if necessary), make a shallow incision on the pelvis, cut through flesh surrounding penis and testicles (or vulva in sows) until separating from their respective tissues, cut along pelvic canal anus for freeing anal tube and sexual organs from carcass, then cut along pelvic canal anus to free anal tube and sexual organs from carcass.
Once the intestines and genitals have been extracted from their hosts, you can complete field dressing by extracting windpipe and lungs from their chest cavities. If you intend on making a bear skin rug out of this hide, salting it at this stage can also help set its hair for easier manipulation later on.
Removing the Hide
Bear meat contains plenty of insulating fat and thick hide, making field dressing as soon as possible essential to avoid spoilage. Doing this quickly helps preserve its hide for taxidermy as well as speeding up chilling times for its meat. If skinning the bear immediately is impractical or not possible, pack an ice bag into its stomach cavity or quarters in order to lessen chances of spoilage.
Use a sharp, clean knife to carefully slice through the hide and muscle near the base of the neck to divide its head in two. When this has happened, separate the eyelids and brain (if there are any). Beware leaving too much meat behind!
Roll the bear onto its back and, if necessary, tie it to nearby trees with rope or hunting partners. When cutting for removal of its entrails, extend this cut up the front to its neck before cutting again near its tail to cut through body muscles to separate hide and muscles from bones below.
From the hip, carefully move a clean knife along the inside of the body (opposite the ribs), cutting through hide and muscles to expose bones while simultaneously separating hide from bones, and revealing the rib cage. A sharp, non-puncturing blade should be used so as not to puncture any organs which contain bacteria known to cause foodborne illness such as the intestines or mammaries.
With your ribs exposed, create two sections of meat by making an accurate slice down from the sternum to navel and across to spine, leaving two large upper quarters and two smaller lower quarters.
Once the upper and lower portions are separated, begin skinning the legs. Saskatchewan bear outfitter Grant Kuypers suggests inserting your forefinger and middle finger into an incision just under the hide, to guide your knife as you work down toward the tail. At the point where leg cuts end, a cut straight across to the knee makes skinning the bottoms easier – perfect if skinning the claws!
Removing the Meat
Deer hunters may get away with improperly field dressing their kills, while bear hunters could easily create an unsanitary mess or lose an important hide if their mistake goes undetected. Therefore, it’s essential that bear hunters promptly field dress their kills; taking care to remove innards that might contaminate its meat (one of the most flavorful wild meats available), transport it without damaging its carcass and skin without damage and cool it to avoid spoilage of both carcass and skin.
Begin skinning from the rear, cutting just beyond the tail vent. This will reveal back feet which should then be skinned before moving on to cut and pull until reaching the neck joint.
At this stage, it should be easy to spot the bear’s abdominal incision; if shot accurately with an arrow, its wound will have slightly closed up, leaving its belly and chest cavity partially exposed. If possible, roll him onto one side for better viewing and access of its diaphragm.
Your knife can quickly separate the diaphragm from underlying tissue, revealing a bundle of tubes extending towards the bear’s chest cavity. Grab this bundle tightly while slowly inserting your blade into his body cavity until reaching the base of his neck.
Once you reach the neck, you can remove front quarters, tenderloins, and back straps from your piglet. In addition, the front quarters should also be sawn off at their shoulder joints in order to release its ribs.
Dependent upon your plans for the bear carcass, whether or not to separate its hide will depend on how it will be used. Removing it allows the carcass to cool more rapidly when drying its pelt for hanging; keeping it can keep the meat warm as you process it, which might not be desirable when crafting a rug from its meat or transporting the carcass.
Cooling the Meat
Bear meat provides an excellent source of protein and other vital nutrients such as iron, phosphorus and vitamins B1, B2 and B3. To be safe for consumption however, it must be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill off Trichinella spiralis parasite that causes trichinosis – this requires field dressing the bear properly, though inexperienced hunters may find it challenging. But the rewards from producing quality bear pieces more than make up for their efforts!
Once skinned, bear carcass and pelt should be left to cool before moving them. Meat can either be stored in an icebox while continuing fielddressing activities or you could hang the carcass for several hours on a tarp to allow proper airflow around it while fielddressing; either way it is important not to get water onto it as this promotes bacteria growth and could compromise meat quality.
Once your bear is ready for transport, roll it onto its back with its hind legs spread wide apart and secure it to nearby tree trunks or hunting partners with rope or hold onto it by using your knife’s free hand to reach into its chest cavity with your free hand knife – once collapsed and half full of blood will fill its lungs!
Seek and grasp the bundle of tubes emerging into the front of a bear’s chest cavity from its neck base. One tube should be easily identified by touch: its trachea is easily distinguished as it looks and feels similar to a firm plastic tube with projecting rings; soft tubes associated with their spleen and liver should also be felt nearby.
Once the spleen and liver have been extracted, carefully open an abdominal incision and spread the bear’s liver and stomach away from tissues below its lowest ribs on both sides, breastbone to spine. This should expose its diaphragm; cut through this muscle completely around each inner surface of each lower rib on both sides – this should make extracting organs simpler.