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The way you handle game after it’s harvested can have a significant impact on the quality of the meat.

Tag immediately, as required by law. Three factors contribute to spoiled meat:

  • Heat
  • Dirt
  • Moisture

Heat is the number one concern. Bacteria grow rapidly in a carcass, especially if it’s allowed to stay warm. Meat begins to spoil above 40° Fahrenheit. The higher the temperature—and the longer the meat is exposed—the greater the chance of spoilage. This is particularly true with large game.

Basic field dressing techniques help cool game by removing entrails, which lowers body heat by allowing air into the body cavity. As a rule, it’s best to field dress immediately.

Hanging deer carcass
  • Remove internal organs using rubber gloves; be careful with sharp knives.
  • When cooling the body, use available shade. Hang deer, if possible. For larger animals, prop the body open.
  • In warm weather, it’s helpful to place squirrels and doves in a cooler after dressing, as long as they remain dry.
  • Dispose of entrails carefully. Don’t leave them lying by the side of a road or near a residence where they can be dragged home by a dog.
  • Keep meat clean by covering it with cheesecloth. This also protects it from flies, which lay eggs in exposed flesh. Rubbing meat with black pepper also will repel insects. If you have to drag the game to camp, try to keep dirt and debris out of the chest cavity.
  • Because moisture damages meat, don’t use excessive amounts of water to wash the cavity. Allow it to dry.
  • If you plan to process the animal yourself, skin the animal as soon as possible to allow the carcass to cool.
  • Take the animal to a professional meat processor or process it at home.

Finally, a sure way to ruin meat—as well as earn the disdain of non-hunters—is to tie the animal to the hood or roof of a car, where it’s exposed to heat, exhaust fumes, road salt, and airborne dust.