Tips & Tactics

Keep It Cool

Keep It Cool

By Ken Piper

Heat and deer meat don't play well together.

Here in the South as I write this, we're experiencing a nasty heat wave complete with safety notices and warnings about outdoor activities. Cooler weather and deer season are two good reasons to look forward to fall. Unfortunately, the temps won't be falling as much as we might like, especially for the first few weeks of bow season.

Those opening days can be some of the best of the year, with bucks being somewhat predictable. Early season is also a great time to fill the freezer with doe meat. Put a doe or two on the ground, and you can focus the rest of your time afield on antlers.

Whether you're targeting a buck or a doe, you need a plan to keep the meat from spoiling. All meat begins degrading the second the animal dies. That process speeds up in direct correlation to temperature (and exposure to other contaminants). In short, the hotter it is, the faster the meat spoils.

I'm a big fan of giving bow-shot deer lots of time to expire. Hot weather trumps that concern. For that reason, take only sure-fire broadside shots, and begin tracking as soon as you think the animal might be dead.

The next priority after recovery is to remove the entrails and cool the meat. First, get the deer to your vehicle as quickly as possible. Once there, a portable gambrel-and-hoist system allows you to gut and skin it immediately. It's fine to gut your deer in the woods, especially if you have a long drag. Once the deer is gutted and skinned, quarter it and place the parts in a large cooler.

If you're more than a few minutes to the nearest source of ice, it's a good idea to already have a few bags in the cooler before you head out. Pre-chilling the cooler helps reduce the temperature of the meat faster. Or, simply drive to the nearest convenience store and load up. The cooler also keeps insects and dirt from contacting the meat.

Another item to consider, especially if you have a longer drag, is a game bag. Game bags protect the meat from insects and other bacteria. They're available in a wide range of sizes and applications like bags for quartered parts and bags for whole deer. A few brand names to look up include Koola Buck, Allen, Argali, Hunter's Specialties and others.

Gambrels also come in a variety of configurations and prices. You can get a fairly simple gambrel/hoist combo for about $30-$40. Models with crank handles and those that fit a 2-inch truck hitch go as high as $200.

Finally, consider some or all of these steps, even if you're taking your deer to a processor. I cannot overstate the impact of heat on deer meat, nor the difference in taste and satisfaction from meat that is handled with care.

We put so much effort into what happens right up until the shot. Why not spend a little more effort afterward?

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