One of the reasons, or should I say excuses, for not filling my Utah Book Cliffs archery elk tag earlier this month was the warm weather. Temperatures soared into the 80s during the first four days of the hunt, leaving bulls silent for all but the first and last hour of the day. Bowhunting silent bulls is a bit like stumbling through the turkey woods when the toms aren't gobbling -- ultimately, you feel like you're bumping animals rather than hunting, at which time it's probably best to just sit down and wait for one to wander by.
Hunting elk and other big-game animals in hot weather presents another problem: what should you do with the meat if you actually tag out? This is especially true on a backcountry hunt where the closest meat locker is hours, or even days, away. Here are a few tips I have used in the past with success, along with a couple of ideas I had planned to employ in Utah but didn't have the chance.
1. Bone the Meat Immediately
Usually I like to keep the meat on the bone for at least 12 hours or so to let the muscles go through rigor mortis and then relax again. This makes for a more tender final product. But in warm weather, the meat closest to the bone, especially large bones like the femur, are the first to go sour. If you're adamant about keeping it on the bone for easier hanging and packing out, at least make a deep slit in the meat to expose the bone and let some of that heat out.
2. Go Gutless
Keeping meat from spoiling requires keeping everything as clean as possible -- something that's tough to do in the woods. Make the job easier by quartering your animal without gutting it. To me, this method is not only cleaner, but also easier, particularly with a big animals like elk or moose. If you're not sure how, there are a lot of online videos showing the process.
3. Air Out the Meat
Once the meat is boned and in clean gauze bags -- Alaska Game Bags are my favorite -- get the bags up off the ground to where cool air can circulate around them. Make sure you hang them in a shady spot, such as on the north side of an evergreen tree. If possible, monitor the bags throughout the day and move them as necessary to keep them out of the sun.
4. Season the Meat
Blow flies and yellow jackets seem to have an uncanny ability of finding your kill site the instant you make your first cut. Minimize the effect of these nuisances by covering all exposed meat and the outside of the game bag with a liberal dose of black pepper. I've also heard chili powder works well, and carried a fresh bottle of it in my elk-hunting pack this season. Unfortunately, I didn't get to report on its effectiveness.
5. Use MeatSavR
I also hoped to try out another product product designed specifically for hunters: MeatSavR. This powder is dissolved in water, then sprayed on the exposed meat immediately upon skinning. I don't fully grasp the science behind it, but it purportedly affects the pH balance of the surface of the meat, slowing the spoiling process. Though I don't have first-hand experience, I've used similar concoctions in the past with some success. In my mind, any advantage in the fight against spoilage is not only worth trying, but ultimately the ethical thing to do.
What things do you do to protect your meat in the field?