Field Dressing Methods for Black Bear

Tips for the Traditional and Gutless Method of Skinning Bear

By William Clunie

This registered Maine master guide dresses out black bears using the Havalon knife with its crazy-sharp blade, because nothing else does a better quality job.

Trophy bear from Maine’s Big Woods, transporting it to camp for skinning

Taking a trophy bear from Maine’s Big Woods and transporting it to the camp for the skinning operation. (Photo by William Clunie)

Several years ago, while working with a Northern Maine bear hunting outfitter, I thought I had found the secret to skinning black bear. Three hunters all dropped a black bear on the same afternoon. I helped the outfitter field dress the bears, skin them out, and quickly get the meat into the freezer – the weather was warm and we didn’t want any meat spoiling.

Instead of sharpening and re-sharpening a regular fixed blade knife during the process, this crafty outfitter used a utility knife. When a blade became dull, he slipped in a new blade and continued skinning, never stopping to re-sharpen.

At the time, I thought the utility knife was the greatest idea – except for a few problems. The pointed blade of a utility knife easily ruins a pelt by poking through the hide. And, when working in delicate areas like the paws and snout, a utility knife is just too bulky for a high quality skinning job.

Now, as a registered Maine master guide, I use two methods for dressing out a black bear. Both require a sharp knife with a curved blade. The Havalon knife is the one that really shines for quick work and a quality skinning job.

Field Dressing a Black Bear, Method #1

Dressing and skinning three bears can be daunting without the right knife and the right know-how

Dressing and skinning three bears at the same time can be a daunting task without the right knife and the right know-how. (Photo by William Clunie)

In the first method, the hunter removes the entrails and leaves the hide intact – then takes the bear to a truck for transport back to camp.

  • Make a slit through the hide near the sternum (breastbone), and then open the abdominal cavity by continuing the cut to the groin. As you make the cut, pull the hide away from body to avoid cutting into the organs.
  • Reach into the abdominal cavity and pull the organs out while cutting the connective tissue that supports them inside the cavity.
  • Split the pelvic bone by spreading both legs apart and carefully sawing through the bone. Now the lower intestines and bladder can be pulled down and disconnected from the anal region. Some slicing of connective tissue will be necessary.
  • Next, cut through the diaphragm and remove the heart and lungs in the same way.

Field Dressing a Black Bear, Gutless Method #2

a hunter has the job of field dressing and skinning out his bear

After taking photos, a hunter has the job of field dressing and skinning out his bear, unless he has hired a guide with skinning experience. (Photo by William Clunie)

The second method is what some people call the gutless method. It’s most often used when a hunter drops a bear so far back in the woods that it would be too difficult to drag out. In this method, the hunter skins the animal and cuts out the major muscle groups without ever opening the abdominal cavity.

  • Place the bear on its side and remove the hide from the top side. Start by cutting through the hide on the inside of one front and one rear leg; then pull the hide from around the two legs. Don’t skin too close to the paws – keep the hide on the paws and cut through the ankle bones so the paws stay with the whole pelt.
  • Roll the paws into the hide and continue skinning the animal all the way to the back bone.
  • One side of the animal’s body is now completely exposed. Remove the major muscle groups and set them aside in game bags. Rinse them off if you happen to have a water source handy.
  • Roll the animal over and repeat the same on the other side, removing the hide and muscle groups.
  • Finally, pull the hide up over the head and skin it to the back of the skull. Cut the neck completely through. Be careful not to saw the back of the skull, and keep the head and paws attached to the hide.
  • Rinse the hide if possible, and bag it. It’s ready for the taxidermist to make into a rug, with the head and paws still attached.

At this point the bags can be carried out of the woods on a cargo frame backpack. Several companies make backpacks for this purpose. The one I have found most useful is a “Long Hunter Guide Model” made in Colorado by Kifaru ( They also sell washable meat bags for transporting game.

Final Tips
In both methods, Havalon’s razor-sharp knives completely outperform the utility knife, or any other knife. One slip of a big, clumsy utility or fixed blade knife can ruin a beautiful pelt, but the curved, surgical scalpel easily separates the hide from the body without cutting into the precious pelt. The same goes for the delicate procedure of opening the abdominal cavity without slicing into any organs.

Another area where Havalon knives outshine the utility knives is when it comes to fine, detailed work, such as removing the hide from the paws and skull. Nothing can come close to the surgical precision of working with a Havalon skinning and caping knife under these tight conditions.


About William Clunie

William Clunie, Hunter / Outdoor WriterA registered Maine master guide, outdoor writer, and nature photographer, William Clunie is “living the dream” in the rugged mountains of Western Maine. He can be reached at:

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3 Responses to Field Dressing Methods for Black Bear

  1. Gary says:

    Thanks for this article! I’m going bear hunting in Idaho tomorrow and needed a quick primer on what to do if I get one. This was very helpful.

  2. HavalonKnives says:

    Glad you found it useful, Gary. Good luck on that bear hunt!

  3. Nell says:

    Wonderful article! I am so glad to have found it. I was doing research and you hit all the points I was curious about. Thanks!

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