All year long we wait. We dream of heavy packs loaded with meat and the feeling of loading that stuff into the cooler after a successful hunt. Sitting down at your dining room table and enjoying the fruits of your labor really brings things full circle. Yes, there is nothing like loading up a plate of high quality protein that you procured yourself. That meat is filled with just as much memory as it is juicy tenderness. In order to ensure that your hard earned meat gets home safe and sound though, a certain level of precaution must be taken. Quality game meat starts in the field. As soon as that animal hits the ground, the clock starts ticking. Here are some tips on meat care in the field for your next outing.
The average internal body temperature of a deer is between 99 and 109 degrees fahrenheit. Because of that, it is crucial for you to get that meat cooling as quickly as possible. This is especially true during the early season when our temps can be up in the 90’s and even 100’s. When it’s later in the season, you can get away with leaving an animal overnight if you have to. I’ve done that a few times with success and not lost any meat. When you do get to your harvest, grab some photos as quickly as you can and get to work. First, you wanna get that hide off of the animal. I’ll do this in halves and skin one side of the animal, then the other. Once I get the hide pulled back on one side, I’ll start detaching the hind quarter, front quarter, backstrap, tenderloin, and any neck, rib or scrap meat I want. From there, that meat will go in game bags and get hung up in a tree, so the air can hit it and begin the cooling process. That air will also put a nice rind on the outside of the meat. If there aren’t any trees around, you can also try laying the game bags on top of a bush, on fallen trees, or possibly over a few rocks(as long as they weren’t baking in the sun). The point is, try and get the meat into a position where air can circulate around the whole of the bag. After that, I’d be getting your fresh game meat on ice and in a cooler back at the truck.
If you should find yourself hunting for a few more days after you’ve killed, not to worry. Plenty of hunters do this with success every year and are fine. Something like this may come into play where your buddy has filled his tag, but you haven’t yet. Of course you are gonna want to keep hunting. That meat will be good hung up in a tree for a few days, as long the sun isn’t beating on it. I’ve heard of folks hanging meat on a dark north face or right above a cool flowing creek with success also.
As you are going through this whole process, it should be in your best interest to keep the meat as clean as possible. This is just going to make things easier when it comes time for processing. How I have done this in the past is by carrying around a big contractor bag as part of my kill kit. They are super lightweight and can squish down to nothing. By having one of these and laying it out on the ground, you’ve now got a clean surface to lay your meat on, should you decide to bone it out or if you are alone and just need a place to lay a quarter for the time being. Any little pieces of grass or rocks that may make their way onto the meat, I will try and pick off right on the spot. That goes for animal hair as well. All of this needs to be done anyways before cutting and packaging. I say why not take care of some of it, if not all of it, right there? It’s a pain in the butt trying to pick this stuff off of meat that you may have rinsed off in the sink.
I am a firm believer in using game bags to hold your meat. There are some folks out there that don’t bother with them, but I think they are a huge benefit. Not only do they make things more organized and easier to hang in a tree, but they also keep the flies off the surface of the meat. Now, you need to make sure that you’re using a quality game bag that doesn’t have huge openings in the mesh. If there are, the flies are going to get to the meat and you don’t want that. I've heard legend of people using cayenne pepper to keep the flies off. Not sure how good that works or not. There are some great high quality synthetic game bags out there that take care of this job perfectly. On top of that, you can reuse them. Just throw them in the washing machine and they are ready for more action.
Dry is Good
So, this is really for once you are back at the truck. Remember when I said to get that meat in a cooler and on ice? Well, I need to clarify something there. Bacteria grows in moist conditions. If you leave that meat sitting there in water and ice for too long, you are increasing the risk of bacteria forming. I’ve been bit by that bug in my early years. You’ll see the meat turn a grayish color. Not good. For that reason, I like to try and keep the meat up off of the bottom of the cooler and away from any water that might be sitting down there. In the past I have use cooking racks to separate the meat from the ice all together and that has worked well. Another slick way to mitigate the moisture issue is by just freezing gallon milk jugs full of water and using those in place of ice. It does involve a bit of work on the front end, but you won’t be buying ice, and you won’t have to worry about the water. This is something I’ve never tried myself, but sounds like the best approach all together. Moral of it all, keep it cool and dry.
All of this talk about game meat has me salivating for the coming Fall! It’s coming quick, as it always does. Before we know it, the vehicles are going to be loaded up, we’ll have that butterfly feeling in our gut, and soon after will be headed down the trail to try and make our dreams a reality. It’s a good feeling and never seems to gets old. Whether this is your first year or 30th year, that is something that I’m sure we all have in common. All of us want the disconnect, the adventure, and of course the privilege to sit down at home afterwards and nourish our bodies with the jackpots from Fall. When you are so fortunate to do so, remember these simple tips for field care. After all of the hard work we put in, it would be a shame to neglect what we have worked so hard for.