Game Care Tips

Some of the content below is adapted from PennState Extension – full article

The Importance of Temperature Control

Temperature control plays a critical role in keeping food safe and is essential for the prevention foodborne illness. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, in some cases doubling in number every 20 minutes.

Field Dressing and Handling of Deer and Other Large Animals

Properly field dressing your game animal is an essential first step in preserving the meat and preventing the occurrence of disease-causing bacteria. Techniques for field dressing deer and other large animals depend on the size of the kill. While deer carcasses can be kept intact, elk and moose may require halving or quartering for transport out of the field and to accelerate cooling.

Recommended Equipment

For proper field dressing, bring the following items with you when you hunt:

  • Sharp knife
  • Small hatchet
  • Whetstone or steel for sharpening
  • Several feet of rope or nylon cord
  • Rubber bands
  • Clean cloths or paper towels
  • Resealable plastic storage bags
  • A large cooler full of ice/snow
  • Ground pepper and cheesecloth
  • Disposable plastic gloves
  • Clean drinking water

Field Dressing

There are several ways to field dress an animal. Most differ in the manner or size of the incision made to remove the intestines. Regardless of the technique used, it is important to eviscerate the animal as soon as possible after shooting. By dressing it quickly, you will ensure rapid loss of body heat, prevent surface bacteria from growing, and improve the overall quality of the meat. To reduce the risk of exposure to disease, wear plastic, disposable gloves while handling animals. If you don’t have gloves, wash your hands and arms thoroughly with soap and water before and after dressing.

Skinning

Once you have field dressed your animal, you will need to consider whether or not to remove the hide. There are several reasons for removing the hide immediately. First, you can maintain its integrity for taxidermy purposes, especially if it is removed before transport. Second, you can chill the carcass faster by removing the hide, which may act as an insulator and keep in body heat.

Leaving the hide on the carcass also has its advantages. If the deer is left outside for chilling, it can act as an insulator from the extreme cold; it can prevent contamination from bacteria, dust, leaves, insects, and hair during transport; and it can prevent drying of the meat. Leaving the hide on the carcass during aging (at below 32-38°F for 2-3 days), also will minimize shrinkage, keep the carcass clean, and avoid discoloration of the meat.

The main things to keep in mind when skinning are using the knife as little as possible and pulling and fisting the hide, especially if you want keep the meat surface and hide intact.

Using a clean knife, cut the skin over the rear of the hock and down the back of the leg toward the rectum. Skin around the hocks and remove the legs at the break joints just below the knees. Make an opening between the tendons and the hocks. Be careful not to cut the tendons, as you can use them later to hang your carcass.

Open the skin around the anus and skin along the midline of the carcass. Once the hide is loosened, you can begin to pull it over the rounds/ haunches, over the loin and back, and over the shoulders. Use your fist to remove the hide from the sides, continuing to pull it down the back. If you get some flesh/muscle with the hide, trim it off with your knife or fist it back into the carcass. Pull the hide completely from the carcass.

If you decide to save the hide, liberally rub the inside with fine salt and let it absorb for 24-48 hours. Ship or transport the hide to a taxidermist for tanning and mounting.

To remove the head, split the underside of the neck. Remove the head at the atlas joint (the connection between the head and the first vertebra of the neck and spinal column). Remove the esophagus/gullet and windpipe as well as any other remaining organs.

If desired, clean up the carcass with plenty of clean water and remove any extraneous material. Store the carcass under refrigerated conditions (below 40°F) until it is boned and/or processed.

Transporting

Traveling long distances in warm weather with a carcass can be detrimental to meat safety and quality. Transport the carcass to a processing facility with adequate refrigeration as soon as possible. If transporting by pickup truck, make sure the bed is free of debris that may blow onto the carcass. If you dress or skin the animal in warm temperatures or where insects are a problem, you can sprinkle or rub ground black pepper on the inside of the carcass and/or wrap it in cheesecloth. Keeping the hide on the carcass until you have arrived at your destination will prevent further contamination of the meat during transport.

If the weather is cool (below 40°F), allow for adequate air circulation by propping the body cavity open with clean sticks. If the temperature is above 40°F, insert plastic bags of ice or snow into the body cavity and secure them by tying the cavity shut with small lengths of string. Because of the heat associated with the engine or sunlight, do not tie the carcass across the hood or roof of a car or truck. Similarly, do not put the carcass in the trunk while it is still warm. For long trips, it is suggested that carcasses be skinned, quartered, and packed in ice or dry ice. Alternatively, a processor can cut, wrap, freeze, and ship the processed meat to the hunter.

Boning out the meat

As you cut the meat from the bones, put the meat in a food safe bag. Please do not use normal garbage bags, as these often are scented, and are not food-safe.