Should you find yourself in a survival situation and turn to hunting small game for food, you must know how to properly skin, gut and clean the carcasses to prep them for cooking. In this article, we’ll show you how to prep two of the most common small game animals: rabbit and squirrel.
Why you should clean the carcass
Wild animals can carry infectious diseases, parasites and environmental toxins. Apart from having a horrid-tasting meal, you risk getting seriously ill if the entrails aren’t removed prior to cooking.
As such, when you remove the innards (heart, liver, lungs, intestines, kidneys and gall bladder) take care not to rupture any of these organs to avoid contaminating the meat. Always keep in mind that, just like store-bought meat, any wild game can make you sick if not properly cleaned and cooked.
Remove the skin of a rabbit right, and you won’t have any fur mixing in with the meat when you cook it. You can even save the fur pelt for use later.
Before you begin, wear gloves, if you have them, and be sure that you don’t have any open wounds or sores on your hands. Take care not to get any rabbit blood into your bloodstream, as it has nasty bacteria. To skin a rabbit, get a sharp knife or stick, lay the carcass on its belly over a clean, flat surface and follow these steps:
Step 1. Pinch the hide on the rabbit’s back and make a small vertical cut.
Step 2. Using your index and middle fingers on either hand, “open” the hide by pulling it apart.
Step 3. Continue pulling, taking hold of more of the hide as you go.
Step 4. Keep tugging until you reach the legs; you can rip or cut the hide off the legs, leaving the carcass with “shoes” on the feet.
Step 5. Resume pulling the hide off the rear; the tail might come off along with it.
Step 6. On the front of the carcass, keep pulling until the hide reaches the base of the skull.
Step 7. Cut off the head from the base of the neck. Cut off the tail if it didn’t come off earlier.
Step 8. For the legs, cut them off at the ankles or snap them off at the joints with your hands; then use your knife to slice through the tendons and remove the rabbit’s “shoes”.
Gutting the carcass
Now that you’ve skinned the rabbit and removed the head, tail and feet, lay it on its back. You’ll notice the innards visible under an almost-transparent membrane.
To remove the innards:
Step 1. Pinch and gently lift the membrane at its thickest, a bit towards the rear of the carcass.
Step 2. Make a vertical entry cut, taking care not to slice through any of the guts underneath.
Step 3. Insert the index and middle fingers of one hand into the cut, making a “V” to widen the cut.
Step 4. With the blade turned up, slip the knife between the “V” moving up all the way to the ribcage. Do the same towards the pelvic area.
Step 5. Carefully cut into the chest cavity where the heart and lungs lie.
Step 6. Anchor one of your fingers in the chest cavity.
Step 7. With your other index and middle fingers, remove the innards by pulling them out while running your fingers along the spine. Pull until all the innards are freed from the cavity and out of the way.
Step 8. Clear out any remnants of the other organs which may be left in the chest cavity, and gently scrape out any remaining membrane. Wash the blood out with water, and the carcass is ready for cooking.
Inspecting the carcass
After you’ve cleaned out the carcass, check the liver. It should have a rich, deep red color and not be misshapen, discolored or muddled with spots. If you see any of these signs, it means the animal was sick and you shouldn’t eat the meat.
Another type of game you’ll likely procure in the wild is squirrel. Skinning and gutting it is not as easy as the rabbit. Rabbits have a softer pelt, while squirrels have a tougher, more hairy hide.
More effort is needed to properly skin squirrels.
Here’s how to do it properly:
Step 1. Soak the carcass with water to prevent any hair getting onto the meat.
Step 2. With your knife, cut between the base of the tailbone and the rectum. Cut right through the two tendons under the vertebrae to loosen the tail, extending the cut one-half to 1 inch towards the head on either side.
Step 3. Place the carcass on a flat surface, stepping firmly on the hind legs.
Step 5. Pull slowly and steadily to remove the squirrel’s “shirt”; pulling until the flesh is exposed up to the “ankles” of the front legs.
Step 6. Next, stand on the tail and pull the remaining hide from the belly to the hind feet; you may have to cut a bit of membrane to free the skin, so take care not to pierce the guts.
Step 7. Pull until the hide reaches the joint of the hind feet, then cut off the feet and head.
Note: When cutting off the head, use your knife to cut all the way around the neck and expose the bone, then snap off the head with your hands. Using your knife can dull the blade and drive bits of bone onto the meat.
Gutting the squirrel
Now that you’ve skinned the squirrel, it’s time to gut it. If the squirrel is male, you will have to first remove the animal’s penis and gonads.
Step 1. Pinch the stomach and make a vertical slit.
Step 2. Insert two fingers and run the knife between them, blade facing up.
Step 3. Cut up through the center of the ribcage, then onto the neck of the carcass.
Step 4. Split the pelvic bone with your knife, exposing the innards. Again, take care not to pierce any of the guts, or the meat will be ruined.
Step 5. Run two fingers from the neck down to remove the entrails. But DON’T throw them away yet.
Step 6. Wash out the carcass before cooking.
Inspecting the entrails
As with rabbit, you have to check the liver of the squirrel to ensure that it’s safe to eat. It should have a rich, dark red color and be free of discoloration and spots, and be of uniform shape. If there are any spots, worms or strange color, discard the whole carcass.
Also, NEVER eat the bones or the brain of a squirrel; these contain prions, proteins which cause an illness that’s a lot like Mad Cow Disease.
In a survival situation, rabbit and squirrel meat can be good sources of protein and calories, but they do come with a few caveats. Consuming them or any other game without cooking or carefully removing the entrails is not advised.
As with other meats, theirs can contain a host of diseases, parasites and possibly toxins. Salmonella, E. Coli, tapeworms, trichinella worms and rabies are just some of the nasty things lurking in raw meat. Always skin, gut and clean any meat you get, and cook it thoroughly. Getting sick from the game you hunt and eat is no way to survive in the wild or while living off-grid.