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The Game Trail

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The Game Trail

Properly preparing wild game

 

I’m shaking my head trying to figure out just exactly what happened to summer. Seems time flew by faster than usual and fall is the air. By the time you read this article, many hunting seasons will already be open in North Idaho. The weather can be unpredictable during September hunts ranging from warm to darn right hot. Sportsmen have a responsibility and moral obligation to have a plan to take care of their meat before they head out into the woods.

The easiest part of hunting is pulling the trigger or releasing an arrow at your quarry. Seasoned hunters know the work begins right after that moment they pull the trigger. How you care for your meat from the time it hits the ground to the time you pack it away in the freezer is directly related to the quality and taste of your wild meat. I hear some folks say that elk they shot last was more gamey than any other elk they have ever shot in their life. It’s not the intrinsic quality of the meat, it’s how it was cared for before hit the dinner plate.

The first step to caring for you meat is making a clean, quick kill. To do so requires practice and knowledge of your equipment prior to the season, so make sure you’re getting lots of time behind that bow or rifle. Sights and scopes have a tendency to get jarred out of position during hunts, so check and make sure everything is squared away before you head out on your hunt.

After you make a clean kill, time is of the essence. You are fighting Mother Nature in every way, and the warmer and moister things are the tougher the battle. Get your animal field dressed and eviscerated immediately, every moment that goes by gas from the microbial processes will build pressure in the rumen. The longer you wait the harder it is to eviscerate and the poorer the meat quality. Ask anybody who has had rumen contents sprayed in their face, the resulting dry heaves and possible loss of lunch is not worth it!

One of the bigger mistakes I see is hunters leaving the esophagus in place and hide on around the neck. This is one of the most insulated areas on an elk and deer and leaving that in place ultimately results in souring of the front quarters and that good neck meat, even in cooler temperatures. Cut all the way up through the brisket and neck as far as you can go. After you have removed those parts pry the body cavity open with some stout sticks to allow quicker cooling. 

A properly field dressed animal will cool rapidly even without skinning the animal. Some hunters are divided on whether to skin the animal or not. If leaving the hide on helps facilitate keeping the meat clean, like dragging a deer to the vehicle, then by all means leave it on. However if you are a good distance to the vehicle then your best bet is to purchase some game bags or make some out of old sheets. Cheesecloth material works best, but avoid plastic bags as they don’t allow for proper cooling. 

When I was stationed in Orofino, an old hunter from Alaska gave me some great advice on game bags. It was a rather buggy year during the early hunting season and the flies, yellow jackets, and hornets were on the rampage trying to steal meat and infuriate any human that got in the way. I was complaining about it as I checked this gentleman’s elk. He told something along lines of “You ain’t see nothing if you think this is bad. Come to Alaska.” With the amount of time he told me that he had spent in the Alaska bush, I didn’t doubt it. Here’s what he does to his game bags: Put three unpeeled lemons and a bottle of small Tabasco in a blender and juice the contents. Let your game bags soak in the solution for an hour and then sun-dry your bags and store in some type of zip top baggie. Why you ask? The citric acid from the solution burns flies when they land on the bag, making them fly away and not allow time to lay eggs. More importantly, the solution lowers the pH balance of the skin making it hard for bacteria to grow. Bacteria really love conditions when the temperatures are above 40 degrees and the pH level is around 7 or 8. Some folks have told me they use salt and pepper in addition to the citric solution, or just plain vinegar in a spray bottle. 

When the temperatures get cooler we don’t have to worry about bugs that much, but there are some things to remember about caring for meat. Don’t cut up the meat or allow the meat to freeze for 12 hours, which allows it to go through the rigor mortis processes. After rigor occurs you will notice that the outer layers of the muscle tissue will stiffen. Hanging the meat and allowing it to age will ensure a better tasting and most tender meat.  

Hope that helps some folks enjoy the quality of wild game meat. If you have tricks that work for you please share them with me! I hope everybody has a safe and enjoyable hunting season. Don’t forget it’s all of our responsibilities to report people who are stealing our wild animals. Please take the time to call your local conservation officer, county dispatch center, or Citizen’s Against Poaching Hotline 1-800-632-5999. If you want to call me directly please call 208-946-0671 or email at matt.haag(at)idfg.idaho.gov. Your local officers are on Facebook as well; come find us at IDFG Sandpoint. 

Leave no Child Inside... And PLEASE stop feeding the wildlife.

 

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Author info

Matt Haag Matt Haag is an Idaho Fish and Game Conservation Officer.

Tagged as:

food, hunting, wild game

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