Early season heat is bad for wild meat

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RALPH BARTHOLDT/Press Bowhunter Scot Fencl harvested his first bull elk on Canfield Mountain as a teenager. The Hayden man, who has a home-based meat cutting business that specializes in wild game, said keeping meat cool after harvesting an early season deer or elk is essential to prevent the meat from spoiling.

When it comes to elk hunting in North Idaho, Scott Fencl has been there and done that.

The former Viking wrestler harvested his first bull elk as a teenager on Canfield Mountain in the 1980s.

Sometimes, he still looks up at the spot when he drives around Hayden. You can see, from Government Way, the wooded park where he killed the bull with a rifle, because the spot is marked by homes built in the years following his successful hunt, he said.

He mostly archery hunts now. Because archery season is usually scheduled during the dog days of September when temperatures can peak in the 90s, he is accustomed to getting meat out of the woods without having it spoil, or filled with the eggs of blow flies.

Heat is hell on wild meat, he said.

“The heat is the biggest problem,” said Fencl, who owns his own wild game meat cutting business.

Fencl, who earned a wrestling scholarship to Boise State, came home to pursue his passion. He worked as a meat cutter first at Cy’s Wholesale Meats, which was on Fifth Street, while he was in high school, and then at Tidyman’s before starting his own business in 1996.

“I did it because I liked hunting,” he said.

And it paid.

Anymore, he calls his work, “stupid full time,” because it often keeps him away from the woods.

At the same time, working three decades with a cleaver and paring knife has given him an acute perception of how to care for game meat afield.

A lot of big game meat comes through the door of his Hayden shop spoiled, filled with fly eggs, or the outer layer of the meat is flaccid and white from having been submerged too long in the water of a creek bed as hunters attempted to cool the meat after harvesting an animal in the backwoods.

It’s nothing new to Fencl, who recently killed his 30th elk with a bow.

One of the lessons Fencl learned pertains to meat sacks sold commercially in gas stations during the hunting season. They aren’t a good fit for early season hunting, he said.

“The flies blow right through them,” he said.

Many commercially- sold meat sacks — usually made of cheesecloth — are supposed to keep flies out, ensure that wild meat stays clean after an animal is harvested, and assist in transporting meat.

Years ago, Fencl had sturdier, canvas bags custom made that he still uses, he said.

“I’ve had them for 20 years ago or longer,” he said.

He rolls up the five bags — each of them holds approximately 80 pounds of meat — vacuum packs them in plastic, and stores them in his hunting pack. The bags keep early season yellow jackets and flies away from the freshly- harvested wild meat, and allows him to submerge the cuts in creeks to cool the meat without having it come into contact with water, which can assist in spoilage.

When he kills a game animal in early fall, he usually does not gut the animal. Instead, he peels the hide away, quarters the game and cuts out the bones.

“I bone out all my meat,” he said.

If he has to leave part of the meat in the woods while packing out portions to the trailhead, he finds a cool place, puts the canvas bags on limbs to keep them off the ground and allow air to circulate under them, and covers them with spruce or fir boughs.

“That keeps the birds and flies away,” he said.

Hunters have been known to rub wild meat with cayenne pepper to prevent swarms of flies and yellowjackets from zeroing in, but it makes his job more difficult if a client drops hundreds of pounds of the spicy, red stuff on his cutting table.

“It works, but I have to take a brush and water to get it off,” he said.

Getting meat out the woods unspoiled takes common sense, preparation and extra work, but the task doesn’t end when the meat gets to the trailhead.

If there is a key that Fencl preaches to fellow hunters, it is this:

Don’t lay the hard-earned wild game in the bed of a pickup truck.

Sun, exhaust, radiant heat from the engine join together to turn vehicles into broilers. A pickup truck bed will damage your precious commodity, especially over a drive of several hours.

“If you step on that barefooted, it’s hot,” he said. “It’s over a hundred degrees.”

And heat is bad on meat.

“I tell people to put some pallets in back and put the meat on that,” he said. “Air can get underneath of it.”

Although the tips seem like common sense, Fencl said, they can be easily forgotten after the thrill of the hunt.

After years of killing early season elk, his actions are ingrained.

“Most of this stuff I screwed up myself when I was younger,” he said.

The animals he harvested last year came home safe and sound in his camouflage-colored canvas game bags.

“It was pretty hot last year,” he said. “I didn’t lose any meat.”

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