Keep it cool; keep it clean.
These two basic rules for bringing premium game meat to the table are a challenge when hunters face hot weather, dirt and insects in the field.
Here’s how to keep game in top shape.
Be prepared. If you’re hunting far away from camp or a vehicle, carry knives, a bone saw, game bags, a tarp and rope.
In hot weather, have a cooler and ice in the vehicle, and know the location of the nearest meat locker, the business hours, and if possible, a phone contact for after hours.
If you’re going to quarter an animal, you have to leave evidence of sex attached. Check state regulations for directions.
Kill and chill. Begin cooling the animal immediately after the kill. Allow its body heat to escape by gutting, skinning and quartering. If the meat doesn’t quickly chill, it can spoil within hours, but after the body heat escapes — including the hard-to-cool shoulders and backstraps— shaded meat that cools at night can safely hang for a couple of days without spoiling.
Antelope, especially, should be completely skinned immediately after the kill.
Elk and moose should be quartered or halved lengthwise because their larger bodies retain heat longer.
Keep meat clean when handling. Put quarters in game bags (good ones; not cheesecloth) as soon as they are cut off and hang them. If there are no trees, set the quarters on a clean tarp, but get it off the ground soon. It’s easier and more sanitary to keep meat clean than to wash it off later. Cut away inedible meat.
Rinse or wipe off all surface blood. The PH of blood is optimal for bacterial growth, and gunshot areas are more prone to bacterial contamination from blood and hair.
Bloodshot areas should be trimmed away to reduce exposure to lead fragments.
Aging: Once the carcass is properly hanged, skinned, cleaned and bagged, it will keep for about 48 hours in warm weather.
According to research done by the University of Wyoming with hunter-harvested deer and elk, aging an animal for three days at 65 degrees (getting cooler at night) is equal to aging it for two weeks at 34 degrees. Meat can be hanged longer in colder temperatures, but this will dry the meat.
Transporting meat long distances requires care. In warm weather, bone meat and store in large coolers with ice. Drain often to prevent contact with meat and water.
Process the meat quickly, keeping it cool and clean to the pleasant end at the table.