In the Panhandle Region, there are controlled hunts that opened Aug. 1. Hunters who were lucky to draw one of these prized tags have an excellent chance to put delicious and nutritious meat in their freezers.
These hunts are very long and offer several months of hunting opportunity. That makes it possible to pick and choose which days are suitable for properly taking care of the meat from a successful hunt. Even though the season opened when the weather was extremely hot, there is plenty of time to wait for cooler conditions when it is easier to keep the meat in top condition. Choosing to hunt early in the season requires special preparation to make certain the meat can be taken care of in a timely manner. If the weather is too hot to properly care for the meat and there is any risk of spoilage, it isn’t a good day to hunt. Hunters have an ethical and legal obligation to properly care for the game meat they harvest.
The key to preserving meat in hot weather is to begin the cooling process quickly. Animals should be immediately skinned, reduced to quarters in most cases, and quickly transported to cold storage.
A part of the planning for any hunt should be a plan for taking care of meat. Even if you are going out for a few hours after dinner to watch a hillside, it is important to carry everything you need for meat care. A hunter also needs to have a cool place available to store the meat for the night.
It is critically important to remove the hide of a harvested animal as quickly as possible so it will begin to cool down. A deer or antelope can hang and cool as a whole carcass in air 40F. or cooler, but elk and moose should always be quartered. Even with the hide off, the large body mass takes a long time to cool and meat can spoil in a matter of hours if the heat cannot escape.
It is far easier to keep meat clean than it is to remove pine needles, leaves and dirt later. Game bags can be very useful to keep meat clean, but game bags should be removed as soon as the meat is out of the woods to allow faster cooling unless insects are a problem.
There are conflicting views about washing down a big game animal with water after it is skinned. Most professional meat processors agree using clean cold water to remove animal hair and dirt is a good practice as long as the carcass air dries quickly so that the water does not encourage bacterial growth. A cold water spray can also hasten the cooling process.
Hopefully the weather will cool some in the next few weeks and tag holders will be able to get out without too much concern about meat spoilage. Fortunately there is a lot of time and opportunity with many of the controlled hunts running all of the way through December. The weather is sure to be cold then.
For more information and for help with planning hunts, go to fishandgame.idaho.gov and use the “Hunt Planner.”
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Phil Cooper is a wildlife conservation educator employed with Idaho Fish and Game in the Panhandle Region.