North America boasts some of the premiere hunting opportunities in the entire world. Big-game, small-game and waterfowl opportunities abound, and those who partake are privy to some of the healthiest organic table fare on earth. Hunters and conservationists owe it to themselves and the wild game they pursue, to properly care for any animal they harvest to ensure the best quality meat for consumption.
Handle with Care!
It is not simply an ethical ‘suggestion’ that game meats be handled with care and processed correctly, but yet a legal requirement! Under Subsection 31 of the Game and Fish act, “No person who has taken or killed an animal, bird or fish suitable for food shall allow the flesh to be destroyed or spoiled,” which makes game meat handling each hunter’s legal obligation. Once your quarry has been bagged (& tagged) in a humane fashion, such factors as; hunting method, field-dressing, transporting, cooling, aging and packaging/kitchen care are all crucial and legal considerations.
Whatever game you hunt must be taken with the best, most accurate killing shot in the vital organs. Poorly shot animals may result in meat contamination. Game that is dispatched quickly in a humane way will always produce better meat for the table. Animals under great stress prior to harvest never produce as high quality tasting meat as those taken quickly and ethically. Lactic acid levels fluctuate in animals stressed prior to harvest and pH level is affected, which in turn has an effect on the meat quality and taste. Lactic acid in the muscles also have the effect of retarding growth of bacteria so it is imperative, whenever possible, to never allow an animal to suffer.
Field-dressing & Cooling tips
Before field-dressing a game animal, be sure to put on pair of rubber gloves and keep them on throughout the entire skinning and butchering process. A game animal needs to be drained of blood and fluid immediately post-harvest and the hunters should always take care not to puncture the stomach, intestines or other organs as this could contaminate your meat. Rinse the body cavity with cool water where possible and dry completely with a clean towel or rag. Be sure to keep antlers intact as age and sex determination is required by law for many big game animals.
After your wild game animal is on the ground, cooling as quickly as possible is imperative to keep meat from spoiling. Under perfect conditions, the carcass should be brought to a meat locker but short of that, be sure to remove the skin as soon as possible to allow for quicker cooling and drying. Air circulation is important and if your animal cannot be hung immediately post-harvest, place the carcass up on logs and prop the body cavity open with sticks. For moose hunters who quarter their animal for transport, cheesecloth should be wrapped over a carcass to protect it from blow flies. Black pepper sprinkled on the meat will also keep flies away and prevent egg-laying. When transporting your game from the woods or to the butcher, be sure to ensure proper air circulation and keep the carcass away from sunlight.
Aging the meat
Aging is a critical process in wild game meat handling process as it allows for enzymes in the meat to break down connective tissue thus making the meat more tender. Be sure your game animal has been properly skinned and is clean of debris before aging. Typically, game meats should be hung in a meat fridge or locker at temperatures less than 38 degrees F for a period of 7-14 days. Proper aging will also improve the overall taste of the meat but should never be done for more than 24 days. If mould or slime appears on sections of the meat during aging, these areas should be trimmed away immediately to avoid further spoilage.
Most wild game meats keep fresh for 6 months in the freezer under normal conditions, and a year or more if frozen with heavy gauge plastic and vacuum-packed. Game meat should be cooking immediately after thawing before any natural juices begin to drain. Game meat left too long to thaw will not produce appetizing table fare since they are so low in fat. When cooking wild game, internal temperature should be at least 175 degrees F or until the juices run clear. Never eat raw wild game meat nor feed it to your pets.
The organic advantage
The most palatable reason we pursue the beloved whitetail is as table fare. Venison meat is unbelievably low in fat and cholesterol, high in protein and not contaminated with growth hormones or unwanted chemicals like store-bought protein. Wild game meat is nature’s most perfect food and should you be fortunate to harvest a game animal, give it the respect it deserves by treating the meat properly!
Check out my other feature on cooking deer meat, three awesome ways.