Members of the Landers family relish dining on the wild game for a good reason: The deer, elk, turkey and other prizes I bring into our home aren’t “gamey.”
I’m not a trophy hunter, so that eliminates some of the potential for tough or nose-offending game meat.
But I’m surprised at how many sportsmen waste the flavor potential of even the younger bucks and antlerless deer harvested each fall.
Even hunting seasons that start in October often are greeted by warm weather with temperatures into the 60s. Those conditions in particular should prompt hunters to taking precautions with the game they’re lucky enough to bag.
I saw numerous deer with skins on heading down the highway during the late afternoon in pickup beds or strapped to the luggage racks of vehicles as they pre-baked in the heat on the last weekend of October.
At a hunter check station, I heard a wildlife biologist casually suggest to a hunter that he “at least should put a couple bags of ice in the body cavity” of the buck in his pickup.
That was Sunday – the deer had been shot on Friday and was still in its skin after hanging nearly two full warm days in a garage.
And he still had five hours of driving remaining to reach his Western Washington home.
I grew up in Montana and I’ve tasted antelope that would gag a wolf. But when I was about 10, my dad and I had an epiphany after spending time with a sheep rancher who clued us in.
From that day on, we hunted only in cool weather, or at least only in the cool of the morning or late in the day.
We stalked our game and avoided animals that had been run.
Most important, we brought tarps so we could skin our antelope on the spot as soon as it was field dressed in order to release all the body heat as soon as possible.
We kept the carcass clean, washed it if necessary, and got it to a cool place to hang as soon as possible – not after letting someone else in the party hunt five more hours to fill his tag.
Since that sheep rancher’s lecture, we’ve never had an antelope doe or buck that was anything that sweet-smelling and sensational on the supper table. Ditto for elk and deer.
But taking good care of game isn’t as intuitive as you might think.
Even in cold weather and with a foot of snow, an elk’s backstraps can spoil overnight if left back down on the ground. With skin on, the carcass must be propped off the ground, by hanging or at least on a couple of logs to let the cold circulate and chill the meat quickly.
In my pickup I carry the ubiquitous blue tarps. In my hunting day pack I carry cord and an ultra-light a 9-by-12 foot plastic painter’s “tarp” or a reflective survival space blanket.
When I get an animal that must be quartered or boned out in the field, I hang quarters with the cord and spread the tarp and put the cuts on it to keep them clean and let them cool as I’m working. Once cooled, I pack the meat in breathable fabric game bags.
Bill Lantiegne, a Washington Fish and Wildlife police officer for 28 years who lives in Western Washington, said he’s had a few lesson-learning experiences with game meat that he’d like to see others avoid.
“Over the years I have observed freshly quartered elk and deer meat still warm, especially in its core, soured by putting the warm meat in coolers and also plastic bags,” he said. “Many conversations with meat locker-butcher shops during facility inspections over the years confirm that this is a common error in packing/storing warm elk and deer meat.
“One case, for example, involved poachers using ORVs who had killed two elk on National Forest Land, boned out the bulls and neatly wrapped all of the meat in black plastic bags. The meat soured surprisingly quickly.”
So get the word out, even to the poacher whose confiscated meat would at least go to a charity kitchen if he knew how to care for it in the field.
Be clean and cool and avoid putting meat in any form of plastic until it’s cold.
Then treat your friends and family to a priceless meal that celebrates your effort as well as the wild creature of God that’s providing the main course.