Elk NetworkWatch: Virtual Reality Field Dressing Simulation

General | October 28, 2019

Thanks to a partnership between Idaho of Fish and Game and the Boise State College of Innovation and Design, learning to field dress a big game animal just got a lot easier.

Over the past year, Brennon Leman and Dakota Kimble, who are part of Boise State’s Games, Interactive Media, and Mobile Program have been working with Idaho Fish and Game staff to develop a virtual reality simulation to teach new hunters how to field dress big game. Leman and Kimble recently put the finishing touches on the simulation, which will soon be piloted in a handful of Idaho hunter education classes.

For Idaho Fish and Game officials, the hope is that virtual reality technology will help new hunters understand the basics of field dressing animals, which is usually taught through text books or videos.

“We talked to hunter education instructors and new hunters to identify some of the biggest barriers to entry for big game hunting, and we found that field dressing was one of them,” said Ian Malepeai, Idaho Fish and Game’s Marketing Program Manager.

While Idaho hunter education courses cover field dressing, the tools available for hands-on instruction are limited, according to Brenda Beckley, Fish and Game hunter and angler recruitment manager.

“We don’t currently have a demonstration on how to properly field dress a deer or elk. VR could change that, and bridge the gap from knowing how to field dress an animal and actually doing it,” Beckley said.

VR Simulation as an Instructional Tool

While much of the attention on VR is tied to the world of video games and entertainment, roughly two-thirds of the future market for virtual and augmented technology is likely to be in industry simulation, according to Anthony Ellerston, director of the Games, Interactive Media and Mobile program at Boise State.

Virtual reality is already being used for instruction and training in professional sports, medicine, customer service, insurance and more. Its biggest advantage as a training tool is its ability to submerge the user into real-life experiences and hone certain skills under controlled conditions, leading to better retention of information when it comes time to apply it in a real-world setting.

“It’s the same for hunter education, and learning how to field dress an elk,” Ellerston said. “You can watch a video on YouTube, and you can get a sense of how it’s done. But what we give you with this simulation is the muscle memory. By making you physically go through the process, it’s much more likely that you will remember it and perform it correctly.”

Virtual reality represents the next frontier in both gaming and instruction, and will be a medium that the next generation of hunters grow up with, said Malepeai.

“VR is developing rapidly and becoming cheaper and more ubiquitous,” Malepeai added. “For Fish and Game, new, innovative tools like this are going to be instrumental in giving younger generations of hunters the confidence and tools to strike out on their own.”

About the Simulation

“For this to be used in our hunter education classes, it was important that the simulation take the user through every step of the process, from the time that the animal is reduced into a hunter’s possession until they have finished field dressing the animal,” Beckley said.

When students put on the VR headset and take the two controllers into their hands, they are transported to the Idaho backcountry, with a freshly downed elk on the ground in front of them. Before they can “grab” a knife using the buttons on the controllers and begin field dressing the animal, students begin by attaching a tag to the antlers of the elk.

After that, the field dressing begins with skinning the animal, removing one of the rear hindquarters, followed by the front quarter, neck meat, backstrap, and tenderloin. Students have to manipulate the legs and hide with their free hand and move their body around the animal as they work, mimicking the real-world mechanics of field dressing an animal.

Illuminated dots guide the location of their cuts, and users can read from in-game written instructions if they need additional help.

Where You Can Find It

While there are a variety of VR platforms, Fish and Game’s field dressing simulation is currently only playable on Oculus virtual reality systems, including the Rift and Quest consoles.

Fish and Game plans to pilot the VR field dressing simulation in instructor-led hunter education classes in its Nampa and Idaho Falls regional offices within the next six months.

The simulation will also be available outside of Idaho, both to hunter education programs in other states and to the general public. The simulation was designed to be compatible with any hunter education program in the nation, and about a dozen other state fish and wildlife agencies have already expressed interest in incorporating the simulation into their curriculum.

For anyone with an Oculus VR headset at home who is interested in trying it out, the simulation can be downloaded at https://idfg.idaho.gov/Zka.

(Video source: Idaho Department of Fish and Game)