By Spencer Neuharth
Early to Mid-October can be a daunting time for whitetail hunters. Not only are you dealing with standing crops and nocturnal bucks, but you’re also up against summer-esque temperatures. If you’re lucky, though, some 70-degree evening sits can bring rare, early season magic.
Those fortunate enough to be October-killers know the struggle of processing meat when the mercury’s high. Between bugs and bone sour, getting your hard earned harvest to the freezer can be a daunting task.
I reached out to wild game expert David Draper to see how he deals with venison in warm-weather. He shared some tips for making sure your kill doesn’t go to waste.
Q: What’s the common mistake guys make when dealing with meat in warm weather?
A: That they don’t get the cooling process started quickly enough. Always do the field dressing in the field, rather than waiting until you get back to the truck. Immediately getting rid of the organs, which hold a tremendous amount of heat, will go a long way towards preserving your harvest.
Q: What if you’re going gutless and packing out a deer, instead?
A: The first thing you should do is get your deer to a shaded area that has some breeze. This will allow you to work where the meat can get plenty of air circulation.
For hoofing one out, it’s best to leave the bones behind. Bones, like the guts, carry a lot of heat and are usually the first place that meat starts to spoil. If you don’t want to mess with deboning in the field, then at least make deep slits in the meat to expose the bone and let heat escape. This is especially important around the larger bones, like the femur and shoulder blade.
Q: With hot weather, there’s sure to be insects abound. Is it worth trying to keep them off the meat?
A: Absolutely, since it’s relatively easy to do. Obviously quality game bags are a must, but you should also consider using a commercially made game-spray-insect-repellent or a diluted lemon-juice solution.
Q: Once you get the meat in a cooler, are you completely out of the woods?
A: Not necessarily. Bacteria thrives at temps above 40 degrees, and it might take hours for your meat to cool down that far. During this cooling phase it’s crucial that you limit moisture exposure to the meat, which can create a breeding ground for bacteria. If you must wash off blood or foreign matter, use a damp cloth rather than directly rinsing it off.
Q: If you were to recover a deer late in the evening, and not be able to get it to the processor/cooler til the next day, what would you do?
A: Warm overnight temperatures are one of the biggest challenges for hunters as the conditions don’t allow any, or maybe very little, cooling of a carcass. Still, it’s important to take advantage of the conditions, even when they’re difficult. In this situation, hunters need to remember hide off and hang. Skinning a deer allows those internal temperatures to dissipate faster and hanging it in a tree helps take advantage of any overnight breezes to cool the surface temperature of the carcass. When field-dressing, also be sure to open up the cavity as much as possible – this means cutting through the sternum to the top of the rib cage and propping that cavity open with a stick or something similar. I would also try to remove as much as the esophagus as possible as that area around the necks holds a lot of heat. Also, as I’ve talked about before, making a long slit down the rear quarter will expose the thigh bones and vent that heat as well. Then, get that deer into a cooler as soon as possible the next morning.
Q: When transporting a deer in hot weather back to home or a processor, is there anything that should be done to ensure that the meat doesn’t go bad in the back of the truck?
A: A trick I learned when hunting antelope – when conditions are almost always hot and I’m far away from civilization – is to make sure to carry several bags of ice in a good cooler. Block ice works best as it melts slower, but cubed will do. (Tip: You know those old bags of cubed ice that have been sitting at the very bottom of the gas station’s ice cooler since the 4th of July? Those are great in that they’ve typically melted a bit, then refrozen into near solid blocks. Not good for cocktails, but great for cooling dead critters.) Then, when I get an animal down and field dressed, I immediately pack the cavity with as much of that ice as I can. If it’s sunny, I’ll also wrap some old blankets or a tarp over the carcass to keep the sun off the animal and hold some of that cold air from the ice surrounding the body.
To hear more from David on open country deer hunting and wild game cooking advice, listen to episode #110 of the Wired To Hunt Podcast.