Getting big game meat cooled below 40 degrees while in the field is especially challenging when nightly low temperatures are in the mid-40s and daytime highs are in the 70s and 80s.
Idaho Fish and Game has gotten an unusual number of calls about spoiled game meat, according to Mark Drew, Fish and Game’s wildlife veterinarian.
“I know that many hunters are very experienced in handling game carcasses and get the hide off quickly, break the carcass down and then get the carcass parts into a cooler or refrigerator area as soon as possible,” Drew said. “But even experienced hunters need to understand that with temperatures in the 60s and 70s during the day and 40 to 45 at night, carcasses take longer to cool, especially if the hide is left on and the carcass hangs in a non-refrigerated location.”
Hunters should take these precautions during warm weather:
• Have lots of ice available. Bring an extra cooler and put blocks or bags of ice in it. Ice stored in a closed cooler will last for days and be available when you need it in the field.
• Skinning a carcass is the fastest way to cool it, but if you’re making a relatively short trip from the field to home or field to camp, you can fill the body cavity of an unskinned deer or elk with ice bags. But beware, body heat can remain in the thickest parts of the animal, such as the hindquarters. You shouldn’t rely on ice in the body cavity to cool larger animals like elk and moose.
• If it’s too warm to hang a deer or elk outside, skin and quarter it and put the meat on ice. A large cooler will hold most or all of a deer that’s been quartered or an elk that has been cut into smaller pieces. Be sure to leave evidence of the animal’s sex.
• Do a little homework before your hunt so you will know where and when you can take an animal to be processed.
• Know the symptoms of meat spoilage. Initially, the skin around the belly and thighs turns green and hair starts to slip off the hide easily. There is usually some green discoloration around the large bones of the upper legs that extends along muscle planes in the heavy muscles of the legs, shoulders and possibly the neck and backstrap muscles. Once this spoilage starts, bacteria, fungi and yeasts can create slime, further discoloration and a rancid smell. In these cases, the meat should not be consumed.
More information about caring for game meat can be found below.