Once upon a time, just about everyone knew how to skin and butcher a rabbit. The tough times of yesteryear meant that many families, even those from the city, frequently supplemented their diet with the cheap but tasty option of “underground mutton”. Today things are different. With increased disposable wealth and an array of cheap fast food options on every corner, it’s a fair bet many of today’s younger hunters have never even tasted rabbit – much less have any idea of how to go about preparing one for the table. That’s a pity with some tough economic times just around the corner, there’s never been a better time to give rabbit a run on the table. The following method for skinning and butchering a rabbit was shown to me by a shearer in the Riverina when I was 12 years old. Before you even start the task of skinning a rabbit, however, you first need to shoot a suitable one. If rabbits are destined for the table, they need to be treated carefully – and that starts the moment you pull the trigger. You should always aim to head shoot your rabbit using a calibre that won’t destroy any meat. The perfect calibre is the .22LR. Try to pick a younger bunny too, they will be much tenderer than a tough old buck. Once youíve shot your bunny, it’s best to skin and butcher it as soon as you can, to prevent the meat from cooling. To complete the task youíre going to need a good sharp knife. Small drop point skinning knives are ideal.
1. Place the rabbit on its back and, holding your knife with the blade upwards, insert the point of the knife under the skin and make an incision along the inside of the leg, all the way from the heel to the groin. Make sure not to cut the meat beneath the skin.
2. Once you’ve skinned both legs, cut through any remaining skin in the groin so that both incisions join up.
3. With your thumb and forefinger, work the skin off the leg. You can simply tear the skin away from the foot, or you may find it neater to cut it free, as shown. Repeat this procedure with the other leg.
4. With your fingers, work the skin off around the butt of the rabbit until you can get your knife into cut through the tailbone and the rectum.
5. Once you’ve made a start and you can get a good grip, the skin can be pulled off the rest of the way to the head in one smooth motion. Be sure the skin doesn’t snag on the stomach, or the stomach wall will tear and the intestines will spill out.
6. Once you’ve made a start and you can get a good grip, the skin can be pulled off the rest of the way to the head in one smooth motion. Be sure the skin doesnít snag on the stomach, or the stomach wall will tear and the intestines will spill out.
7. Keep pulling until the skin is clear of the body and is still attached only the front legs and head. At this stage the skin can be torn completely clear of the carcase on younger rabbits, but on older rabbits knicking the legs with your knife will make things easier.
8. Use your knife to nick the skin at the back of the rabbit’s head, then pull and tear the skin free from the body.
9. Remove the hind legs by cutting through the knee joint with the knee bent.
10. With the rabbit now skinned, the intestines must be removed. Do this by inserting the point of the knife under the flesh, with the blade facing upwards, and very carefully ëunzippingí the stomach cavity. Be very careful not to puncture the intestines or stomach: one slip here and the intestinal contents can spill and ruin your rabbit. A drop point knife helps ensure the knife point does not catch the innards. Remove the lower guts by firmly grabbing the liver right up near the diaphragm (if liver is blemished, dicard the rabbit), steadily pulling them out. Leave the kidneys in if you desire. Leave the heart and lungs in place temporarily – we’ll get to them in a minute.
11. Once the knee joint has been severed, straighten the rabbitís leg and cut the leg free by sliding the knife back along the bone towards the foot. This ensures as much meat as possible stays with the carcase. Repeat on the other leg.
12. Remove the head. This can be achieved by ‘ringbarking’ the head with your knife, then applying firm downward pressure (a little twisting may be required here too).
13. The final step is to separate the pelvis so that the remnants of intestine can be scraped from the rectal cavity. Do this by pressing the knife down against the central white line where the two sides of the pelvis fuse. If you push the blade in the right spot the pelvis will pop open.
14. Use your knife to open the chest cavity as close to the sternum as possible. Remove the heart, lungs, oesophagus and trachea. This step can be done as a continuation of Step 9, but I find it easier after the head has been removed.
15. Voila! The finished product is a properly butchered rabbit carcase ready for the pot. It can be cooked whole, or cut into large pieces for a casserole. Alternatively it can be boned out if you only want to use the meat.
This article was first published in Sporting Shooter, December 2009.