Big-game seasons throughout the West will start opening in the coming weeks—so elk, antelope, and deer hunters will be hitting the woods, even as warm temperatures still hang on in September and October. With those temps come the threat of losing your hard-earned meat to rot and bone sour. Bacteria thrives above 40 degrees, so it’s imperative that early-season hunters get their game animals cooled fast. That is difficult to do anytime during the season, but it is downright impossible when temperatures soar. Still, there are a few things you can do to mitigate meat loss.
1. Start the cooling process as quickly as possible by field-dressing the animal in the field. Do not wait until you get back to camp to open up the body cavity and remove the internal organs, which hold a tremendous amount of heat.
2. Once dressed, remove the skin and hang the carcass in the shade, where it will get plenty of air circulation.
3. Do not use water to rinse blood or foreign matter from either the internal cavity or the surface of the meat. Moisture invites bacteria growth. When combined with warm weather, this is an invitation for spoilage. If necessary, use a cloth dampened with fresh water to wipe down the carcass.
4. Do not skimp on game bags. High-quality linen bags will keep butchered meat clean and cool while also protecting it from insects.
5. On backcountry hunts, bring along plenty of garbage bags. In extremely hot weather, you can bag the quarters and submerge them in a creek or other moving water to speed the cooling process.
6. Large bones, such the femur and shoulder blades, hold a lot of heat and are often the first place meat starts to spoil. If you want to leave the meat quartered with the bone in, at least cut a deep slit to expose the bone and let heat escape.
7. Flies, yellow jackets, and other insects will find your carcass quickly in hot weather. Game bags help protect it, but consider using a commercially available, citric-acid based game-saving spray designed to reduce bacterial growth and repel insects. Other tricks include dousing the meat in black pepper or wiping it down with vinegar or a diluted lemon-juice solution.