Hunting season is fast approaching. In fact, dove and Canada goose seasons are already in, and I hope hunters can thin those resident geese out a little. Whitetail deer archery season opens this weekend.
I never seem to find the opportunity to get out like I once did, but when I was younger this was a very important time for me. I remember my father had two rules. The first was to never take bad shots and risk wounding game. The second was to make sure no meat was wasted.
When I was in high school I recall many of my fellow students pontificating about hunting and processing game. I remember guys talking about their grandfather always waiting at least three days before skinning and cutting up a deer. That’s fine if daytime temperatures are 40 but not if they are 70 or higher.
Bacteria cause meat spoilage and they multiply in a warm moist environment much faster than a cool dry one. Basically, we need to cool meat out fast. That means field dressing as soon as possible. Removing the hide in timely fashion is important too.
I’ve viewed countless photographs of bucks hanging by the horns with the hide on. I’ve even queried a few hunters and most told me it helps them bleed out completely. Take my word for it; it isn’t a good practice.
Game needs the body heat removed as quickly as possible. If a cooler isn’t available, try quartering the animal and icing it down in a cooler. When I have to do this I also add enough water to make the mixture slushy. This ensures uniform contact and even cooling.
I also add about a pint of vinegar to help marinate and tenderize the carcass. Leave the lid open to allow airflow. I never pack meat in the freezer until all body heat is removed. Ventilation during the cooling process helps remove volatile compounds that can lead to off-flavor.
Cooling the meat from body temperature to freezing too quickly can make it tough. Conversely, overloading a freezer with warm meat isn’t good either. It’s best to chill freshly killed meat as quickly as possible but not freeze it immediately.
Some folks prefer to age their meat in a refrigerator and if you have space that’s fine. I’m usually short on refrigerator space. Aging meat properly yields a superior product, but it takes experience and skill. When aging, one should trim off excess fat as it may become rancid and ruin flavor. This is true for most wild game but from what I have heard is not as critical for beef.
Probably the most important part of handling meat comes before you even get your prize home. In the case of deer and other large mammals the dressing process is critical. Deer have scent glands on their hind legs. They should be removed as soon as possible, preferably with a different knife than is used for the rest of the job. I always carry two knives.
I’ve always enjoyed caring for the meat even more than making the kill. Maybe I’m just weird that way, but it’s how I was raised.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (firstname.lastname@example.org).