Care of Alaska Game Meat in the Field
by Doug Drum, Indian Valley Meats
In order to make the best product from your game, we need to start with game that has been well taken care of. There are many theories on the best ways to take care of game in the field. Personally, I use a proven method that is based on the principals used in the meat processing industry. The aim of this method is to make life harder for bacteria and flies by; creating a cool, high-acid environment to slow their growth, limiting their food sources by bleaching out blood, making a protective glaze coating and by controlling flies.
The Game Bag
Never use plastic or woven plastic bags because they tend to hold in the heat and don't allow for proper air circulation. Always use cheesecloth or a cheesecloth like material, which is strong enough to carry the meat while it allows for maximum air movement, yet still has a tight enough weave to keep flies out. You can find the bags at most sporting goods stores.
Treating the Bag
Prepare a citric acid solution as follows: Blend (in a blender or juicer) three lemons (un-peeled), one large bottle of lemon juice concentrate and one small bottle of Tabasco sauce. Soak the game bags in the solution for 20 minutes to one hour. Then let them air dry completely (not in the dryer). Finally, seal them in zip lock baggies.
Flies may light on the bag but the citric acid burns them and they will not hang around. Also, the citric acid helps to reduce bacteria growth. Bacteria grows rapidly at a pH level of 7.0. The pH level contained in lemons or limes is around 2.35. You can buy a high concentrated dry citric acid at Indian Valley Meats that will make a gallon of liquid for $3.00. This will also help the pH level drop to around 5.3. The higher the pH level the more chance there is of spoiling.
REASONS pH LEVEL WILL BE HIGH: If the animal has been running a long way and is excited its blood sugar level will drop which causes lactic acid in the muscle tissue to be higher. The meat will be darker in color and have an off flavor to it. This is why a clean kill is important.
Cooling the Meat
COOL THE MEAT QUICKLY IN WATER: In the field, you want to cool your meat quickly because the sooner the meat is cool, the better the meat will be. You should bleed, gut and skin your animal as soon as you can. Next, you need to reduce the temperature of the meat. If you are near a stream or lake, you can submerge the quarters to bring the temperature down. Do not cool completely in water. Retain enough heat to dry the meat when it comes out of the water. For water cooling, I carry a sheet of plastic "visquine" and spread it out in a lake or stream. Once the animal is quartered, I lay the meat on the visquine and let it cool for twenty-five minutes to an hour (depending on the mass of the meat).
Why Water-Cool Your Meat?
A bath in a stream or lake speeds the cooling process and bleaches out excess blood that feed bacteria and attracts flies. Alaska game animals have a very large meat mass. Consequently, it takes a long time for the meat to cool down. The cold water temperature of the lakes and streams in Alaska help expedite the cooling process.
- I've been told by several hunters that you should avoid getting meat wet. This is partially true; you don't want to leave meat wet. This is why you retain enough heat in the meat to cause drying once you remove it from the water (also see air drying for procedures to remove excess water).
- I've also heard concerns about Giardia in the water getting into the meat. While I can't guarantee the purity of the water or possible transfer of bacteria to your meat, I can say that I have never heard of anyone getting sick from water cooled meat, and I talk with a lot of hunters. The decision is yours based upon the conditions at your location, cleanliness of water and outside temperature. Tests have also been done in Canada by Bailight, which show the strong acid in citric acid should take care of Giardia and will also help kill types of bacteria.
Air Drying / Storing Meat in the Field
AFTER WATER COOLING: After you have brought the temperature of the meat down, you're ready to begin air drying. If you are near water, there is normally a gentle breeze at all times. Hang the meat in such a way as to take advantage of this air movement. Protect the meat from the warm sun with some sort of shelter. I bring a light weight tarp for this purpose
Remove Excess Moisture
Once the meat is hung under the tarp, run your hands down it to squeeze out and remove any excess moisture.
Apply Lemon Juice or Citric Acid
Lightly coat the meat with a lemon juice mixture (see game bags). This will create a high acid protective glaze over the meat while it is drying.
Place in Game Bags
When the meat is dry, it's ready to place in the game bags and rehang.
NECESSARY SUPPLIES: Buy a small can of Golden Malrin and a small piece of black plastic (a black plastic garbage bag is fine).
BUILDING THE FLY TRAP: Eight to ten feet away from your meat, lay a couple of branches on the ground. Pile scraps of meat on and around the branches. Pour Golden Malrin on and around the scraps of meat. Cut a slit in the center of the garbage bag or black plastic and place the bag loosely over the pile.
HOW IT WORKS: The sun heats the plastic, which heats the meat. The flies are attracted and crawl through the slit in the plastic to the meat. The Golden Malrin kills the flies.
WHEN YOU LEAVE THE AREA: Put the black plastic and the scraps of meat with the Golden Malrin on it in a zip lock baggy and carry it out with you.
Winter and Cold-Weather Hunting
WHEN HUNTING IN FREEZING TEMPERATURES: The animal should be skinned as soon as possible and then covered with a tarp or plastic after cooling for 20 minutes to 1 hour. If surface starts to freeze, cover the plastic covered carcass with snow to insulate it so that freezing does not occur until rigor mortis sets in. Rigor mortis is the process where the muscle tissue starts to stiffing up. This may take up to 12 hours. If the carcass freezes before rigor mortis sets in the pH will not drop down to around 5.3 and your meat will not be tender and have as good a flavor.
Recommended Gear List
The following items are recommended by this site as a result of years of collective experience in the field working with Alaska game.
- Helle Nying knife (2 each)
- Havalon Piranta knife (1 each, with extra blades)
- E-Z Lap Model M diamond sharpener with sheath (1 each)
- Leatherman Wave multi-tool (1 each)
- ARS GR-17 folding saw, with extra blade (1 each)
- Estwing Camper’s Axe (1 each)
- Heavy-Duty Game Bags
- Citric Acid Powder
- UDAP electric fence kit for bear protection
- Flagging Tape
Additional Resources on Meat Care
- Alaska Field Care Handbook (two-part e-book by Michael Strahan)
- Field Care Handbook (book by Duncan Gilchrist)
- Float Hunting Alaska's Wild Rivers (book by Michael Strahan; contains extensive meat care section)