Taken from the net on 20 August 2001, not included in the previous
How to care for and transport wild game meat and trophies
by Rich LaRocco, Associated Hunting Consultants
As soon as you kill a game animal, you must take proper steps to
ensure that the meat does not spoil. If you do so, you can have many
The four keys to preserving venison
1) COOL IT IMMEDIATELY,
2) Keep it clean,
3) Cool it further, and
4) Keep it cool.
By cool, I don't mean just barely above freezing. That's seldom
possible on many hunts. What I mean is to cool the meat from almost 100
degrees down to 70 or 80 degrees as quickly as possible, in the first
hour for sure, and then to continue to cool the meat as much as
possible. That first hour is critical because if you don't get rid of
the heat, bacteria multiply like mad in 90 to 100 degree temperatures.
Even if you're hunting where the temperature is 90 degrees, you can
cool meat quickly. Here's what I do.
First, recover the animal as quickly as possible. Take your
photographs, not spending too much time, and then get to work.
Quickly skin and debone the animal. Deboning might not be legal
(not legal in North Carolina.)
In some states regulations may not permit deboning a game carcass.
If quartering is allowed, skin and quarter the animal, store each
quarter in a muslin or closely woven cloth bag, and hang in the shade.
Cut down the back line from the base of the skull down to the
tail. Now make a second cut perpendicular to the first one about
halfway back on the body from belly to the center of the back. Cut
around the knees. Slice up the back of each front leg until you get to
the "arm pit." Now cut straight back to the second cut you made. Now
slice up the back of each hind leg, cutting to the base of the tail.
Fold back the skin, being careful to get no meat or hair on the
meat, and skin the animal. If you want to save the cape and skin, be
careful to remove just the skin and not a layer of flesh and fat, too.
As you expose the hind quarter, remove the large muscles, cutting down
to the bone. A flexible-blade fillet knife is ideal for this job. Place
the meat in muslin game bags or pillow cases. I usually just buy old
used pillow cases at a thrift store. The meat can then "breathe," which
promotes cooling, and it's protected
from dirt and leaves and hair and the like.
After you're done with the hind quarters, fillet the outer part of
the front quarter. Put the meat in the pillow cases. (Don't put too
much meat in each bag.) Now cut the front leg, including shoulder
blade, off the body, turn it over and fillet the back side of the front
Now fillet the loins and neck. Then cut the meat off the ribs.
Finally, slice all the meat between the ribs. Be careful not to
puncture the intestines.
I'm now halfway done. Notice that I have not even gutted the
animal. Flip the animal and debone the other side.
Now gut the animal, remove the heart and liver (they're both
edible) as well as the so-called tenderloins on each side of the spine
at the top of the ribs.
Remove the cape and hide and store them in bags, too.
WHAT TO DO WITH BAGS OF MEAT
Hang the meat bags in shade. A good place is the north side of a
spruce or other conifer, close to the trunk. If possible, hang the meat
on a north or northeast-facing slope.
During the night, take the meat out and spread it out to cool.
In the morning, put the meat back in the meat sack and place it on
a sleeping pad and then cover it with a sleeping bag. During the day,
keep the meat inside a backpack tent or someplace else where you won't
To keep the meat cool and to prevent dessication in arid areas,
you can use a spray bottle to spray a mist of water on the meat bags
If you follow these rules, you can keep meat a week very easily.
When you get home, you'll have clean meat ready to cut into smaller
pieces, such as steaks and roasts.
Where allowed and when I have time, I make the final step of
cutting and wrapping the meat myself at camp or at a butcher facility
that will allow me to do my own cutting and wrapping. I trust myself to
do clean work more than I trust a butcher with whom I have no
experience, and I can save money this way to spend toward my next
Your outfitter or guide might do a great job in field dressing
your game and might even be prepared to care for the meat down to the
cutting and wrapping. Don't plan on it, however.
You also might be able to have a local butcher care for your meat.
Butchers can be undependable and slow, however. I usually prefer to do
the work myself unless I absolutely don't have the time and place.
Butchers typically charge by the pound, usually 50 cents to a $1 a
pound. Some charge extra for skinning an animal or storing the meat.
Consider donating some of your meat to a needy family, organization,
your outfitter, guide or another hunter. Don't forget about legal
requirements for donation certificates.
Consider minimizing the meat you take home by taking only the best
cuts and donating the remainder to needy families near your hunting
area. Shipping charges could exceed the value of the meat. Remember,
state or provincial law could require you to fill out a donation tag or
document, sometimes on a required form supplied by the government. The
person to whom you donate meat also may be subject to special
regulations. Some outfitters are not well-versed in the laws governing
donations, so take it upon yourself to become familiar with local laws
before your trip. Click here for details on various state and
provincial regulations regarding game meat care and transportation.
Another strategy to minimize costs is to have some of your meat
made into jerky, sausage or salami. Ten pounds of game meat yields
about three pounds of jerky. In some places you can trade in your meat
for an equivalent amount of already prepared jerky or salami, which was
made from some other hunter's animal. Ask your outfitter or rancher
about butchers that offer this service.
You can transport game meat with you on an airline as baggage or
as excess baggage. Or you can ship it to an airport near your home by
As luggage: On most airlines traveling in the U.S. and Canada
you're allowed to take two pieces of luggage, plus carry-on luggage,
which must fit underneath the seat in front of yours. I typically take
two extra-large heavy-duty Cordura nylon duffels with me on hunting
trips. I also carry a gun case that is large enough to hold my gun or
guns as well as my binoculars, knives and spotting scope. Upon
returning home with game meat, I wear several layers of clothing and
carry onto the airplane a large day-pack or the bag off my backpack
frame. I carry as much as I can on the plane so that I have room in my
duffels for meat. The meat is very cool and has been triple wrapped in
plastic. Each piece is inside a heavy-duty Ziploc bag, quart to half
gallon size, then several pieces are wrapped tightly inside a
heavy-duty trash bag, and three or four of those packed bags are then
wrapped tightly inside a heavy-duty garbage bag. I don't freeze the
meat first because then it has sharp corners that will cut through
plastic wrapping and cause leakage of blood and juices. Instead, I cool
the meat to just above freezing temperature. The bags of meat are
wrapped inside my sleeping bag (I take two sleeping bags on
cold-weather trips) or clothing for insulation, and then the insulated
meat is then packed inside my duffels. Each duffel can weigh 70 pounds.
I weigh them before I check in at the airline. If necessary, I'll
transport my gun case as overweight baggage, but usually you can avoid
paying overweight on the gun case if you act as though you expect the
airline to transport it at no extra charge. Keep in mind that you must
tag the major portion of meat in most states and provinces. In some
areas you must tag both the meat and the trophy with separate tags.
Read the hunting regulations thoroughly for requirements on meat care
Excess baggage can be extremely expensive. Consider whether the
cost is worthwhile to you before you commit to having your game meat
transported home. Excess baggage fees typically range from 75 cents to
$1.20 per pound and are sometimes more. However, if you're traveling
home on two or three different airlines, your costs could mount
Unaccompanied baggage: Sometimes you can save money by having your
baggage transported as unaccompanied baggage, which does not ensure
that it will be on the same flight as you. Obviously, transporting meat
this way would not be feasible unless the airline could guarantee
delivery at a time or place that would be convenient and workable for
Air freight: If you live near an airport, you might be able to
have your meat shipped home to you before or after your return.
Sometimes a butcher will agree to ship it to you, or maybe your
outfitter will agree to do it. Most will not, and those whom you can
trust to follow up with this job might not be as dependable as you
like. Also, the freight could be delayed, or the meat might not be
packed as required, resulting in meat spoilage or leakage. However, air
freight fees are usually less expensive than excess baggage charges.
Parcel services: UPS, Federal Express or the U.S. Postal Service
sometimes can be used to ship meat, but it's usually not feasible to
ship fresh meat this way due to the high cost of overnight delivery. I
have had meat made into jerky, salami and sausage and then shipped by
UPS. It's usually cheaper to buy jerky at home, however.
When traveling by car, you can transport properly cooled meat
inside muslin game bags (or old pillow cases), which are stored inside
coolers. Don't include dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) unless the meat
already has been cut and wrapped. CAUTION: As it sublimates, dry ice
turns into a gas that is toxic to humans. Do not keep dry ice inside a
closed vehicle, a camper or a trailer or bed-topper that is to be used
You can transport meat thousands of miles by car or truck if
you're properly prepared. I have had clients drive $2,500 with huge
coolers strapped onto truck racks or even freezers mounted in truck
beds or on utility trailers. A large group of hunters can save money by
traveling this way. However, you can't compare the price of gas with
the price of an airline ticket without consider the other costs of
traveling. Traveling 4,000 to 5,000 miles round trip on the highway
will reduce the value of your vehicle and will cause it and its tires
and bearings to wear out sooner. Also, you might need to stay in motels
several times on a cross-country trip, and you'll need to spend more
money on meals on a longer trip. And don't forget to calculate for
yourself the value of your time and of your lost vacation time and work
Many outfitters advertise that trophy care is included in the
price of their hunts. This usually means that the outfitter or his
guide will remove the cape and horns or antlers and take it to a local
taxidermist. Sometimes this is all you need.
However, if you shoot an animal a long ways from a taxidermist,
much more must be done than simply removing the cape and cutting off
the horns or antlers. The cape or pelt must be fleshed -- all scraps of
meat and fat must be removed. This includes cartilage in the nose and
ears and the moist flesh inside the lips. In the case of a bear, all
the fat and flesh inside the paws must be removed.
Your hide or cape must be salted several times until all moisture
is removed. This can take several days.
In some cases, the gelatinous material inside the horns must be
Properly fleshing a trophy is a job for a taxidermist. If you
cannot get the trophy to a taxidermist quickly, the trophy could be
lost to spoilage within a matter of hours, depending on temperatures.
Few guides or outfitters are qualified to do all the trophy preparation
necessary to have a hide or cape ready for tanning.
In some cases, such as when you're hunting in Mexico, the cape or
hide must be completely dry before it can be transported across the
border. Therefore, learn how to prepare a trophy yourself and carry
with you the necessary tools and materials, or arrange to have a
qualified expert in camp or a nearby town to have the job completed.
Sometimes you can have the cape frozen and shipped to your
taxidermist. Some taxidermists don't like this because the process of
thawing the cape itself can lead to spoilage.
The best way to learn how to prepare your trophy for shipping to
your taxidermist is to spend some time with your taxidermist and have
him show you exactly what to do. Learn how to flesh the lips and the
nose and how to turn the ears.
Videos, books and articles also can educate you about this
process. There is not space on this page for a detailed description of
how to do the job. There are many web sites that contain helpful
information. You can find the by using a search engine such as
google.com or altavista.com.
Velvet-covered antlers present a special challenge. Velvet is
fragile, especially at certain times; yet few outfitters who offer
hunts for animals in velvet offer adequate methods for preserving the
velvet. It used to be that taxidermists used formaldehyde to preserve
the velvet, simply injecting a formaline solution into the veins inside
the velvet. However, formaldehyde is carcinogenic, so few taxidermists
use this method anymore. Bird feet solution, which you can buy from a
taxidermy supply house, has been used with mixed results. I've heard of
people who did nothing more than soak the antlers in turpentine or even
gasoline, but I would not recommend those methods.
Consult your taxidermist for his suggestions.
Not only is it important to prevent bacteria and insects from
attacking the velvet, but it's also vital to protect the velvet from
physical damage during transportation. Consult your taxidermist for
Some trophies can take more abuse than others. A black bear pelt
spoils quickly, while a mule deer hide might last several times longer
in warm weather. However, do your best to skin and care for the trophy
quickly. Some hides, such as Dall sheep, hold blood stains, so wash off
If your guide capes your animal, be sure he leaves plenty of hide.
I usually cut the hide well behind the shoulder.
Do not allow anybody to cut the throat of an animal you intend to
mount. I once ran an elk hunt on an Indian Reservation, and one of the
Indian guides cut an elk's throat before the hunter realized what was
Leave plenty of skull plate when you saw off antlers or horns.
Most quality outfitters can arrange to have your trophy (hides,
antlers, horns or skulls) shipped to you or your taxidermist. Don't use
the taxidermist suggested by the outfitter unless you know he does good
work and will do it on time. When traveling by air, you can sometimes
transport your trophy inside your luggage or as baggage. However, some
airlines, such as in Alaska, will no longer transport caribou or moose
or elk antlers. Check with your airlines before you leave for your
If allowed, you can ship antlers as baggage by taping a piece of
hose over each point and by securely covering the skull cap with
freezer paper or cardboard.
From some locations, such as Mexico or Africa, your trophy must be
dipped to ensure that it is free of noxious insects. You need various
permits and certificates in order to transport animal parts from
certain locations. Some animals that are considered threatened require
special permits for possession or transportation.
You cannot legally transport a mounted mountain lion or any part
of a mountain lion through California. Similar regulations pertaining
to specific animals could exist in other states.
Your choices for transporting trophy hides, capes, antlers and
Driving them home or to your taxidermist.
Sending the raw or frozen cape and antlers as air freight to your
home or to a taxidermist. This requires crating.
Transporting them inside your luggage or as baggage or as excess
Having the trophy mounted locally, then crated and shipped to you
by ground or air freight.
Unless your animal is of record-book quality, consider splitting
the skull (separating one antler from the other), which could allow you
to ship them more easily and cheaply. For example, airlines and air
taxi services in Quebec typically charge $100 to $200 to transport an
unsplit caribou rack to Montreal, while a split rack is free or $50.