It would be a significant understatement to say I favor the right to hunt and fish. This right, however, is not in the Constitution, but is instead secured by state laws. Broad support of hunting across all states is surprising, as the vast majority of people don’t hunt. These non-hunters continue to favor this activity as they see hunters supporting conservation and consuming the animals they shoot. As long as hunters continue to adhere to these principles, there will be support for hunting even as people argue about the specifics in wildlife management plans.
Sportsmen and women often opine on the topic of conservation but forget the role hunting plays in providing meals. Planning a hunt in a manner that best cares for harvested meat generally falls into two categories. The first is when most the cleaning is done at home. This can include big game, if you are lucky enough to harvest an animal close to a road. But in most situations, this applies to bird hunters. The other type of trip are those where it is necessary to partially butcher the animal in the field. That means after harvest and before the animal is moved, there is a need to at least quarter the animal and remove back straps and tenderloins.
In the first situation all you need is a knife. Most people clean birds at home so the equipment they rely on is a hunting vest. In contrast, big game is always gutted in the field. This requires a sturdy knife that has a blade at least three and a half inches long.
If you are likely to harvest a big game animal distant from the road, you will need to carry a few more items. That includes several knives, a meat saw, a head lamp, extra water, and game bags. Having several knives speeds the process of quartering an animal, as you don’t have to sharpen them in the field. Bone saws allow you to remove the legs and head more easily. A bright LED light makes it slightly less dangerous to haul 50 to 70 pounds of meat off a mountain in the dark. Finally, the extra water will keep you hydrated during a long hike with a heavy backpack.
An important item to ensure clean meat are heavy cotton game bags. These bags give you a location to lay meat down while quartering an animal, provides a container to hold meat inside your backpack or strapped to a pack-frame, can be hung from trees if there is a need to make multiple trips, and keeps flies off the meat. If you buy the right kind, they are durable and can be reused multiple times.
I think it is best to process all wild meat at home. That doesn’t mean local businesses don’t do a good job. It’s just a small window when you can harvest wild game, which means these businesses are swamped from late September to mid-November. Butchering at home also gives you greater respect and appreciation for the animal and the table fare it provides. The most important tool you or someone in your extended group of hunting friends’ needs is a meat grinder. Having a grinder allows you to take the good cuts for roast, steaks, and stews and turn the rest into hamburger, sausage, and jerky.
Ideally, meat tastes better if it is hung for a while. The proper temperatures for hanging an animal is between 32 and 40 degrees. In many years, temperatures at the end of October fall in that range so an animal can be hung in the garage if you pay proper attention to air circulation and keeping the neighborhood cats at bay. Warmer years will require you to butcher the animal immediately if you don’t want the meat to spoil.
When cooking, most wild meat will taste better towards the medium rare rather than well done spectrum of cooking. Grouse and pheasant can be shared with everyone and few people will notice they are not eating chicken. A good recipe for moose, elk and antelope can confuse many people into thinking they are eating range fed beef. Deer can be gamey to delectable depending on what they were feeding on and when they were harvested. While I like ducks and geese, I generally share these animals with nonhunters in the form of jerky.
As hunters, it is important we eat what we harvest and share meals with those that don’t. These simple acts will help insure support for hunting far into the future.