Field dressing is the process of skinning game and removing the internal organs to preserve the meat for eating. Rabbits are some of the easiest and quickest small game to field dress, making it an excellent learning experience for beginners and experienced hunters alike. If you want to know where your meat comes from, it’s a handy skill. See Step 1 to learn how to field dress a rabbit.
Harvest the rabbit as humanely as possible.
Whether you’re going to dress out a rabbit you shot while out hunting or are going to harvest a farm rabbit, you need to make sure it dies as quickly and painlessly as possible.
If you shot the rabbit, hold the rabbit firmly by the two back feet, and use your hunting knife on the back of the neck at the base of the skull to sever the spinal cord with a quick incision. You can either remove the head completely at this point to facilitate blood draining out, or you can wait until you’ve started skinning.
If you’re harvesting a farm rabbit, it’s common to use a blunt object like a rolling pin, broomstick, or other device to strike the animal at the base of the skull, or to dislocate the animal’s neck with your hand. Dislocating is easier, because it eliminates the possibility of a missed strike, common for beginners. Holding the rabbit by the hind legs with one hand, grasp the animal with your other on either side of the head, pulling both hands away from each other firmly, twisting the head up and back to dislocate the neck. The animal will become unconscious immediately if done properly.
Hang the rabbit to drain.
Before skinning the rabbit, it’s common to remove the head with a heavy knife, laying the rabbit flat on a cutting surface and inserting the knife at the base of the skull where it meets the neck. Push through with a firm chop. Hang the rabbit from it’s hindquarter, just under the hock to drain into a bucket.
You can pierce the rabbit’s hind leg into the Achilles tendon to hang it upside down, just under the hock (the big part of the hind leg, like the thigh).
There’s some discussion about how necessary it is to bleed out a rabbit you’re planning on eating. Because there’s not a lot of blood to drain from a rabbit, some hunters skip this step and remove the head during the skinning process. Bleeding out will, however, result in “cleaner” looking and in some cases more tender meat if you bleed the rabbit immediately after killing it.
Dress the rabbit as soon as it’s convenient.
You can dress the rabbit more or less immediately after killing it, and since it’s usually easier to remove the skin while the rabbit is still somewhat warm, it’s recommended to dress rabbits as soon as you get the chance. If that doesn’t happen until you get home, that’s fine, though the rabbit will usually be more difficult to work if it’s gone cold and stiff. The whole process shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
Since rabbit season is usually during cold weather, there’s less of a need to hurry and worry about spoilage. Because it’ll likely be chilly, your rabbit carcasses should be fine until you get home if you’d rather wait. You might consider doing it in the field, though, to leave the mess in the great outdoors.
Prepare as clean a work surface as possible.
While it’s always best to field dress your rabbit immediately after killing it to reduce the risk of contaminating the meat, it’s also important to work clean. Even if you’re in the middle of the woods, use a sharp, clean hunting knife free of rust and other contaminants, and rinse the carcass with clean water when you’re finished.
It’s a good idea to wear latex or thick rubber gloves while handling your rabbit, especially when you’re handing the entrails. Keep your hands clean and your meat clean.
Some hunters like to keep a cutting board specifically for the purpose of field dressing small game like rabbits and squirrels. Clean it thoroughly before and after use with soap and clean water, making especially sure there’s no fur or other contaminants on the surface as you work.
Remove the feet from the rabbit.
There’s no meat in the feet, and it’ll be easier to get the hide off if you remove the feet first at the ankle knuckle. They can be removed quickly and easily, and it’s better to do it now than when you’re haggling with the hide half-on and half-off.
To remove them, bend each foot forward, making a small cut across the back of the knuckle to loosen the joint.
Use your knife to cut through the rest of the way with a firm cut through with your knife. You shouldn’t have to use much pressure to cut through.
Make a small cut in the fur across the back of the rabbit.
Pinch the skin near the shoulder blades of the rabbit to lift the skin up and away from the muscle, and make a small incision from side to side, perpendicular to the backbone. It only needs to be long enough to get your fingers in.
Be very careful to pull the skin up before piercing it. You don’t want your knife to cut through into the meat yet, because it’s easy to carry bacteria or parasites off the fur and into the flesh, contaminating things and ruining all your work.
Hook your fingers into the skin and pull in opposite directions.
Use your first two fingers from each hand to insert into the hole you’ve made in the hide, using one hand to pull toward the tail and one hand to pull toward the head. Keep working the skin off until it’s just connected at the neck.
Rabbit skin comes off quite easily, slipping off the muscle like a jacket. It’s quick work. You shouldn’t have to work a knife in, as with a deer or other larger game, and you shouldn’t have to pull very hard.
If you’re interested in saving the pelt and keeping it in one piece, it’s better to make a longer incision in the belly after removing the feet, near the pelvis of the rabbit, then slip it back off the legs and up the back. This isn’t the most recommended method for beginners, since it risks piercing the belly cavity and the entrails, spoiling the meat, but it’s not hard once you get the hang of it.
Remove the head by twisting it off.
Now the skin should be draping off the carcass, connected at the neck. With one hand, grab the rabbit by the back legs, letting the head and the skin hang toward the floor. With your other hand, gather the skin around the head, and twist it off firmly, rotating the body and the head in opposite directions. It should come right off.
You can also remove the head with your knife by cutting firmly and quickly through the back of the neck, under the skin.
If the tail didn’t come off when you removed the skin from the butt-side of the rabbit, you can also cut it off now, as close to the body as possible.
Carefully make a small incision in the skin on the belly.
Pinch the skin to raise it up off the organs underneath, and make an incision with you knife so you can remove the organs very carefully. Pinch the skin up as high as you can, and make your incision, then insert two fingers to keep lifting the skin up and away as you keep slitting the belly open, up to the rib cage.
When you reach the rib cage, you’ll also need to cut through the breast bone to open up the cavity and expose the organs on top. You should be able to run your knife up through the break through the ribs easily.
Rabbit skin is quite transparent, so you should be able to see the organs underneath quite clearly at this point. What you want to be very careful to avoid specifically is the urine sac and the colon, either of which will ruin the meat, if pierced.
Be prepared for some odor. The body-cavity of a wild rabbit won’t smell like petunias. It’s not indicative, however, of anything wrong with the meat.
Separate the membrane holding the organs.
Up toward the ribcage, you’ll notice a small transparent membrane keeping the heart, liver, and other major organs intact. At the very top of the ribs, you might need to cut through the membrane to remove it slightly to make the organs come out more easily. This isn’t always necessary, but it’ll make it much easier to let gravity do the work of removing the organs for you.
Hold the carcass up to coax the organs out.
With one hand, pick up the carcass of the rabbit, so the back feet are pointing at the ground. With your other hand, insert two fingers at the very top of the ribcage and scoop the organs out with a gentle but firm downward motion. They should fall right out with the help of gravity, preferably into a bucket for easy clean-up.
Some hunters like to pay special attention to removing the urine sac before the rest of the organs, especially if it appears to be quite full. The urine sac looks like a small pale yellow balloon, near the anus. To remove it, pinch it firmly where it connects to the carcass, and only where it connects, then pull it away, being very careful to avoid squeezing it and popping it.
Save any organs you want.
The heart, liver, and kidneys are all common edibles. You can roast them up along with the carcass if you’re interested, or they make great dog treats when cooked up, or raw.
It’s good practice to examine the liver for any spots of discoloration after you remove it. Yellowish liver spots can be a sign of serious infectious disease, indicative of meat you don’t want to eat. If you notice strange spots on the liver, discard the rabbit immediately.
Rinse the carcass and clean up after yourself.
Immediately rinse the carcass in cold, clean water. This will help to bring the temperature down and prevent spoilage, as well as to remove any stray bits of fur, blood, or other bits from the inside and outside of the meat.
If you’re in the field, pack the meat loosely in a cooler. Don’t wrap it in plastic yet until it’s cooled down fully, or it’ll sweat and promote spoilage. The carcass should be maintained at a temperature not exceeding 39 degrees F (4 degrees C).
If you want to tan the hide, rinse the fur off immediately and soak it in cold water to keep it safe before beginning the tanning process.
You can bury the entrails and fur if you want, or pack them out and dispose of them quickly. In some municipalities, however, it is illegal to leave entrails in nature. Check your local laws to know for sure.
Remove fat, sinew, and “silverskin” with a boning knife.
After you’ve let the carcass cool down sufficiently, you can start breaking it down further and preparing it for the stew pot, skillet, or the oven. The first thing to do is to carefully go over the carcass and remove any undesirable bits of sinew and fat with your knife.
Rabbit fat doesn’t taste particularly good. A lean meat, rabbit is generally best prepared as clean as possible.
The skin comes off quite easily during the dressing because of a fine layer of silverskin that coats the meat. This is ok to leave on if you want to fry up your rabbit and crisp it up, but it’s usually better to take some time to remove it. Peel the silverskin off carefully with your knife and dispose of it.
Remove the legs.
Rabbit legs, especially the back legs, can account for up to half of the meat in a rabbit. It’s one of the most-desired parts of the meat, tender, rich, and delicious.
To remove the front legs, run your knife along the ribs of the rabbit, up from under the front legs. They’re not attached by bone, which makes them quite easy to remove.
To remove the back legs, splay the carcass on its back and bend the legs out to each side to expose the connecting joint. You might need to use your knife to scrape alongside the pelvic bone, between the leg and the pelvis to expose it. Use the point of your knife to separate the joint and pull each leg free.
Consider separating the belly meat from the loin.
Because rabbits are small, this step is commonly skipped among people preparing rabbits. If you’ve got a big one, though, separating the meat from the torso beneath the ribs (this is the bacon of the rabbit) from the loin, the meat running on either side of the backbone, can yield delicious individual cuts.
To remove the belly meat, flip the carcass on its back and trim the thin meat from the back, near the pelvis, forward to the ribcage. The point at which the meat gets slightly thicker and darker along the backbone is the loin.
To prepare the loin, it’s usually common to leave intact, and separate from the ribcage by chopping through the backbone where it meets the ribcage. You can also just bend the loin backward from the ribcage with a firm twist to break it. The ribs can be saved for the stockpot, if you want, or discarded, since it contains very little meat.
Keep the rabbit whole for roasting.
There’s nothing that shouts hunter more than a whole rabbit roasted over an open fire on a spit. Don’t want to go to all the trouble of breaking the carcass down? Don’t. If you’ve got an especially small rabbit, it can be much easier to leave it intact and cook it up as one piece, rather than breaking it down into extremely small pieces.
Alternatively, it’s also common to do a super-quick half-breakdown by chopping through the backbone right where the ribs meat the abdomen, separating the rabbit into essentially two pieces. This is an excellent way to braise the rabbit, or use it as a base for soup.
<img src='https://i0.wp.com/www.wikihow.com/images/thumb/5/5f/22630-18.jpg/aid22630-v4-728px-22630-18.jpg' alt='Consider brining the meat to remove the gaminess.’ width=’900′ height=’599′ />
If you’re interested in trying rabbit, but aren’t a huge fan of its particularly gamey flavor, bringing the rabbit in a salt-water overnight can do a lot to soften the flavor and make it much similar to chicken.
Use 1 tablespoon of salt for every cup of cold water you use to create the brine, then soak the rabbit in a covered bowl in the refrigerator overnight. However you choose to cook it, it’ll be delicious.
Consider adding crushed red pepper, chopped basil or oregano, and crushed garlic to your brine to kick things up a notch.
<img src='https://i0.wp.com/www.wikihow.com/images/thumb/f/ff/22630-19.jpg/aid22630-v4-728px-22630-19.jpg' alt='Cook the rabbit and enjoy!’ width=’900′ height=’599′ />
Rabbit is lean and gamey, a delicious alternative to more common grocery store meats, especially when cooked properly. It’s perfect for stews and for frying up as an alternative to chicken, though there are lots of ways to cook rabbit:
Cook Italian-style rabbit. While we may not think of it as traditional “Italian food,” rabbit is commonly enjoyed in Italy, stuffed with fragrant spices and simmered in tomatoes and red wine. It’s delicious and unexpected.
Make roast rabbit. Marinade your rabbit in a mixture of mustard, olive oil, and black pepper and brown the pieces in butter to create a nice crust on the meat. Finish the rabbit by roasting at 425 F for about ten minutes. It’ll be tender and delicious.
Slow-cook the rabbit in a crock pot for 6 hours for super-tender eating. Add vegetables like carrots, onions, water chestnuts, and whatever else you like with some water. Thicken the sauce with a slurry of sherry and cornstarch in the last 45 minutes. You’ve got to try it.
Try the no-gut grip.
Some hunters who harvest a lot of rabbits have gotten field dressing down to a super-fast skill that only involves a minimal use of the knife. You can remove the hind legs and the backstraps or loin of the rabbit quickly by skinning the hind parts first. Then, tuck the skin in and tear the hind-quarters away from the rest of the animal. You’ll be left with the most-desirable meat on the rabbit, and all the fur, guts, and forelegs in another pile, if you do it correctly.
Hold the rabbit upside down by the hind legs and start by making a small incision across each hind leg. Start pulling the skin of each leg down toward the rabbit’s groin, as if hiking up its trousers. Hook your finger through the skin of at the groin to tear through, separating it around the legs and work the skin up to around the ribcage.
When the hind-parts of the rabbit are bare, take the skin and tuck it into the skin remaining on the rabbit’s upper chest. Grasping firmly around the mid-section, rip the top half of the rabbit down while pulling up on the hind legs. It’ll take some elbow grease, but you can pull the back legs and the spine free of the rest of the carcass, leaving you with the best part, totally clean.
Try the survival manual long-snap method.
One of the most, uh, colorful ways of dressing out a rabbit was introduced to the world in an old Air Force survival manual. You don’t even need a knife.
After killing the rabbit, hold it upside down, with the belly facing you. Feel where the ribcage ends on the belly of the rabbit, and grasp it with both hands, firmly squeezing your thumbs in where the ribs end.
Stand with your legs spread, more than shoulder-width apart, and “toss” the rabbit back through your legs as if you were long-snapping a football to a punter, without letting it go. Throw hard. As you toss, squeeze hard on the abdomen of the rabbit.
If done properly, the entrails will exit the rabbit’s anus in quick fashion, and you can peel the skin off with your fingers, to have a fully dressed-out rabbit in about 30 seconds. If done improperly, you’ll have a disgusting and ruined mess. There’s no reason to do this if you have a knife.
Try to find your own ways to speed up the dressing-out process.
Many hunters are interested in getting the field dressing done with as quickly as possible. If you hunt a lot of rabbits, field dressing can quickly become tedious. The more you hunt, the more quick-tips you’ll be able to come up with for yourself to speed up the process. Just make sure you’ve got a sharp and clean hunting knife, and find what works best for you. Always take the time you need to do the job, properly, though. There’s no sense in rushing and ruining your meat.
Domestic rabbits tend to be more difficult to work because of their fat content, making it important to slow down and use care in the process. You don’t want to ruin the meat by getting impatient.