Taking Care of Harvested Wild Game

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I believe the most honest consumer of meat is a hunter. They take full ownership of the harvest and consumption of wild game, from the field all the way to the dinner table.

Yet when we think about a successful hunter, we think about their outdoorsman skills rather than the qualities of food safety. Immediately following the excitement of the hunt comes the responsibility to care for and process the meat. Handled poorly, not only can a wildlife enthusiast lose the meat, but can cause illness. Any complaints at the table about “gaminess” can be traced straight back to how the game was handled or mishandled after the harvest.

Field dressing, whether in the field or back at camp, is the very first step after harvesting the animal. This involves removing all the internal organs from the body cavity.

From a food safety perspective, this first step begins the process of cooling down the meat. This applies to deer, hogs, squirrel and all other game animals. Plastic gloves are recommended when cleaning all wildlife, especially feral hogs. All kinds of disposable gloves are readily available at pharmacies and supermarkets. Hunters can easily store them in a pocket while hunting.

A good, sharp knife is needed in all phases of processing. A sharp knife makes the work safer and easier since it is less likely to force the blade and lose control of the cut. Many experienced hunters even keep a sharpening stone nearby to touch up the blade as they are working.

Hanging your harvested game after field dressing will greatly aid the draining of any excess blood. Use cold water to help clean off excess blood but remember that moisture is one of the factors which contribute to bacteria growth, so dry the animal thoroughly after rinsing the interior carcass. Once the harvest is hung, the next step is to remove the skin. Skinning is an additional step to cool down the carcass and preserve the meat.

Quartering is when you remove the forequarters (shoulders), the hindquarters (hams) and the backstraps from the carcass. By Texas law, a person may not process white tailed deer beyond quartering until they reach your final destination. This means no ‘boning-out” the shoulders and hams. You may take trimmings from the neck and ribs. Absolutely, don’t forget the tenders on the inside of the chest cavity that parallel the backstraps.

Keep quartered game meat cool and dry by placing the meat in plastic bags inside an ice chest. Add some ice and it’s ready for the trip home. Be sure to retain the tags, along with proper “evidence of sex” (head of a doe or antlers of a buck) to your final destination. For all the regulations, read the Texas Parks & Wildlife Outdoor Annual rulebook.

The old caricature of carrying harvested game on the hood of a car is long gone. Under no circumstance should one ever transport game animals in such a way. First, this is a sure way to spoil the meat and ruin all the time and effort of a successful hunt. Second, it is also very likely to offend many of the non-hunting public. Most non-hunters are not against hunting but seeing this type of disregard for properly and legally harvested wild game could turn them against hunting.

This Monday night at 6:30 the Angelina County Extension office will be demonstrating how to field dress, quarter and store wild game meat. Sean Willis, a Wildlife Biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife, will be our guest speaker on field dressing and properly caring for a freshly harvested deer. Cost is $10 for adults.

For those interested in attending, this will be a live demonstration on freshly harvested game.

The following Monday, Oct 22 at 6:30 pm we will be processing the harvested meat. If you come to the first meeting, this second one will be free. If you chose to come only to the processing seminar, cost will be $10 for adults.

The Angelina County Extension Office is located at 2201 S. Medford Dr. on south loop 287 next to the Farmers Market.

Author

Cary Sims
Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu

Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.
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