How To Keep Meat From Spoiling In The Backcountry

Just like hunting on public land or private land, backcountry bowhunting will take a lot of planning.  The difference between the three, though, is that hunting in the backcountry will take a little bit more.

Resources that you would have had before may not be as readily available as they were hunting in private and public lands, so learning how to properly utilize safe hunting tactics and strategies will be very important in determining a successful hunt or not.

Caring for game meat can present its own set of challenges when backcountry hunting compared to hunting on different hunting grounds and will use a lot of planning, smarts, and preparation.  If you want to prevent your game from spoiling while you are in the backcountry, then take a look at the following tips so that you can come home with fresh and healthy game meat.

Also, keep in mind that while in the backcountry, the nearest meat locker may be hours or even days away, so making sure your meat stays fresh is not only critical when it comes to keeping your meat from spoiling but for ensuring that your health is okay as well.

1) Heat Elimination

If you know anything about caring for your game meat, then you know that heat is your absolute worst enemy.  Heat can be responsible for causing tons of bacteria on your game meat, forcing you to scrap it out and throw away all your hard work for nothing.

Although we all wish to just hang our game up and call it a day, it is not that simple.  Timing, preparation, and weather all play huge factors in determining how your meat will ultimately taste, so taking each and every step into consideration is everything when it comes to healthy meat.

If you want to get rid of heat from an animal and get the cooldown process going a little quicker, then you are going to want to tear the hide off and gut the animal out.  The hide and guts on an animal, especially big game animal, hold a lot of heat and can cause a multitude of bacteria to build up and meat to spoil very, very quickly if it is left on.

Some hunters say that keeping the hide on your animal is important with keeping it clean, but from my experience, it has only proved to make my meat go bad or taste very gamey.  If you don’t want to learn this the hard way, then keep this tip in mind.

Get rid of as much heat as possible and you will be well on your way to enjoying some tasty, unspoiled meat.

2) Keep Your Meat Sanitary

Although you will be cleaning your meat off thoroughly before eating, you’ll still want to keep your meat clean during the dressing process.  If handled uncarefully, your meat can be exposed to things such as bugs, animal feces, urine, and whatever else you could think of that would be out laying around in the backcountry.

This is not only disgusting but can result in your game tasting like whatever it was exposed to.  I cannot speak for all hunters, but I don’t think I want my meat to taste like deer poop or urine.  It’s one thing to taste gamey, but to taste like that is another, so watch how you’re handling your meat so that you can prevent this.

Another thing your meat can pick up if handled improperly is hair.  Animal hair on your meat can be a nuisance to deal with and should be avoided while you are cutting your meat up.  Tugging and pulling away at your animal with a dull blade or tool that is not designed for cutting an animal up can cause a lot of jerking, therefore, increasing your chances of getting hair on your meat.

If you want to keep your meat away from any contaminants during the field dressing process, then dress on a portable table big enough to break your game up on or a large tarp.  This will surely ensure that your game meat doesn’t become exposed to anything that could taint it and prevent you from eating anything that doesn’t taste like fresh meat.

3) Chunk It Up

If you want to make sure you’re meat is staying clean and unexposed on a smaller scale, then piecing your meat up into large sections instead of small can help a lot with this.  Having too many rows of meat can be hard to manage and can require you to work even harder at keeping bugs away, so having it split up this way will stop that from being an issue.

When you piece your meat up into a ton of slammer pieces, this gives insects a larger area to contaminate.  Bugs such as flies and yellow jackets are known the fly on hot piles of animal feces, spoiled meat, and pollution, so doing this will prevent the chances of something like that happening as much.

Chunking the pieces up will also stop you from going through so many different game bags and can assist you in keeping more of your equipment clean for other game animals throughout your trip.  Depending on how long you plan your trip for, you may catch other game animals that you feel are worth your time, so having extra bags can come in handy in a situation like that.

Piecing your meat up in larger quantities is not a requirement or something that will only give you the best results if done, but can save you a lot of headaches and extra care if you do decide to use this method.  It has worked well with keeping my meat fresh and more maintainable and I would recommend it to anybody.

4) Breathable Game Bags

When bagging up any game, you’ll want to keep on hand bags that allow for great breathability.  Many hunters have tried to use other types of bags to substitute an actual game bag, but have been very disappointed with the results.

If you use something along the lines of a trash bag or any other enclosed plastic bag that doesn’t allow proper ventilation, then you and your game are in for a treat.  Bags that are exposed to the sunlight and don’t allow your game meat to breath can cause heat to trap inside and allow bacteria growth to run ramped.

On top of that, certain bags that you can find at the grocery or convenience store use chemicals that make your bags smell good for odor protection.  This can taint your meat and should be avoided for obvious reasons.  Trash bags or any other kind of bag are used specifically for one purpose and should never be a substitute for putting your game meat in.

Even if temperatures are not insanely hot, it is still not recommended to put your meat in.  It doesn’t take a whole lot of outside heat to make bacteria form within your bag if it is not breathable.

If getting ahold of bags that should be used for bagging game is something you are not able to get ahold of, then it is recommended to postpone the hunt.  It is not worth spoiling your meat for.

5) Hang It Up

This will be the part in which you let your meat cool down the most.  If you are using the proper bags, hanging your meat up can be good for you for many reasons.  It can keep other animals away from trying to eat your game, it can provide your game with shade from branches and leaves from trees that are larger, and it can help cool your meat cool down by allowing wind to blow through it.

This is a step that almost every bowhunter does and in my opinion one of the most important steps in the whole process.  If you are hunting in an area where there are not a lot of trees, then collecting a bunch of leaves, sticks, and other natural resources and piling them up high enough to where it is out of reach of other animals can be another alternative, but I am not sure how effective this is with actually cooling your meet down.  This is not a method that I have practiced, but it has been said to work.

Another good reason to have your meat hanging or exposed to the winds of nature is because over time it will form a hard layer of skin that can protect your meat from bugs, parasites, and debris even further.  When your game is up in the air in a breathable bag, it is exposed to a lot, so having that extra layer of protection is awesome for protecting it.

6) Prevent Moisture

If you are going to hang your meat up, then it is best to get it up somewhere where it won’t be exposed to the rain or any other conditions in which it can soak up water.  This is because when your meat gets wet, moisture can ruin it.  Keeping game meat dry can be challenging, but it must be done to avoid bacteria.

There are many factors that can play in getting your game bags wet such as soaking up water from soil on the ground, leaving it on the floor of a boat, leaving it to be exposed to water that is splashed within it,  and moisture build up from frost or dew in the morning.

One way to avoid moisture is to wrap it up in a tarp.  It is a common practice to do this during conditions in which there is rain or snow, but if you’re just looking to keep your meat dry then this can work well for that, too.

Also, keep in mind not to stack your meat up if using a brush pile to dry your meat out.  This can restrict airflow and can cause meat to either dry extremely slow or in certain weather conditions, not at all.  Make sure to rotate your meat regularly so that air and sun are able to get to all parts of it.

7) Black Pepper Works Wonders

Bugs and insects can be responsible for causing you a lot of frustration when it comes to keeping them off of your game and will surround your meat almost instantly after making your first slice into your animal.  They seem to be great at picking up certain scents and will not stop pursuing your meat no matter how many times you swat them away.

This may sound odd and ineffective to inexperienced hunters or hunters who have never field dressed and dried their meat out before, but coating your quarters in black pepper can prove to be very effective with keeping them away.  Black pepper contains a natural repellent and can be used to keep insects away in any situation while hunting.

Another great solution to helping with this is to use a citric based spray.  I have yet to use this method of keeping bugs off of my game meat, but other hunters have said that a lemon juice and water mixture sprayed over there meat has worked a ton for dealing with this nuisance.  

If hunting big game, you will likely be going through a ton of this stuff, so it is recommended to bring along multiple very large spray bottles of solution so that you don’t run out while you’re on your backcountry trip.  You can easily go through a lot of spray when covering large portions of meat so having backups will be a lifesaver when it comes to keeping your meat safe.

Citric acid can also be used to preserve your meat longer.

8) Bring The Right Gear

Chances are you’ll be on your trip for a long period of time, so having the right gear handy will be a must when it comes to having a successful bowhunting trip.  Here are a few items you should have before leaving for your trip

  • Sharp Knife
  • Breathable Game Bags
  • Tarp
  • Paracord

Going on your trip without these can make things a lot more difficult and can cause dressing and curing your meat to be very challenging as well.  Dull hunting knives can make cutting up meat a struggle and will result in lots of pulling and tugging.  So, make sure to either sharpen your knives or invest in newer, sharper ones before you leave for your trip.

As you know by now, breathable game bags are also extremely important for curing your meat.  Your meat has to be able to breathe in order to properly air out and prevent germ contamination, so having these are an absolute must.  You also know that your tarp will be used for either covering your meat from rain, wrapping it to keep moisture out and to have an area for when you field dress your game. 

Your paracord will be used for hanging your meat up after bagging and cutting it up.

9) After The Hunt

If you’re able to preserve some of your meat long enough to bring home to the family, then you’ll want to make sure you wrap it and store it in an extremely cold location like the fridge, the freezer that is attached to the fridge, or a deep freezer.

Storage times will depend on the game animal that you have, but for most meats, they will typically stay good for about 1-2 days in the fridge with the exception of a few other meats that will last up to a week.  In the freezer, game meats can last up to 12 months.  For most meats, though, I’ve found 3-4 months is a good time to store before throwing out.

If you have any meat that you don’t use, then tie it up very securely and toss it in a garbage can away from the house.  The smell of spoiled meat will smell horrible and will attract animals, such as raccoons, to scavenge through your trash can.

Conclusion

Many new hunters don’t know it, but keeping your meat fresh in the backcountry is not an easy task.  Unlike hunting in public or private areas, getting home in a timely fashion fast enough to get your meat stored and cool is not typically an option when backcountry hunting.

Timing and a lot of preparation will go into keeping all your meat fresh, so when bowhunting in an area where sources for cooling your meat is limited, you’ll want to use what you have around you.

Having the proper gear will make your hunt a lot smoother and will save you from packing up and traveling back out just to get what you need to take care of yourself and your meat.

Backcountry hunting can be difficult if you are inexperienced and should only be done with hunters who have had enough experience to responsibly and successfully take care of there meat while doing so.  If you are a beginner, then bringing along a friend who has experience with hunting in the backcountry is recommended.