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Hunters' Harvests Yield Tasty Meals
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- When a hunter's goal is a tasty meal, success will depend on more than an accurate aim.
The wild taste is not necessarily something game meat naturally has, but results from improper care of the game. A few preparations can ensure the successful hunt is enjoyed on the dinner table.
Dr. Melissa Mixon, extension food safety specialist at Mississippi State University, said field dressing is the most important step in preserving the flavor of the meat.
"For the best quality, dress wild game as soon as possible after killing," Mixon said. "Big game such as deer must be bled and field dressed immediately."
Proper bleeding allows the meat to keep better and improves its appearance. Depending on the type of wound, some animals will not require bleeding.
For food safety and flavor, field dressing is also important for medium and small game. Be careful not to puncture the stomach, intestines or bladder. Wash the inside of the carcass when finished.
"After an animal has been downed and field dressed, keep it clean while being transported from the field," Mixon said.
Wrap larger animals in a tarp or place them on a four-wheeler to take them back to camp.
"A temperature above 40 degrees is meat's worst enemy," Mixon said.
Place small game in an ice chest immediately, and place larger game on ice or in a large cooler as soon as possible. Prop carcasses open so air can circulate. Do not pile warm birds in a mass.
With large animals, skin the carcass if the temperature is expected to be above freezing the first night after the kill. Use cheesecloth or light cotton bags to keep the carcass clean and protect it from insects. In colder temperatures, the hide can be left on the game until it is ready for butchering.
Keep all game cool after it is killed. Large game should not be tied to warm hoods of vehicles, should be kept out of direct sunlight and should allow air circulation. Internal temperatures should reach 40 degrees or below within 24 hours.
Aging, which usually improves tenderness and flavor, is the practice of holding carcasses or cuts of meat at high humidity and temperatures of 34 to 37 degrees. It is a precise process and is not achieved by hanging a kill outside for a few days.
"Not all meat should be aged," Mixon said. "Aging carcasses with little or no fat cover is not recommended. These carcasses lose moisture rapidly, resulting in weight loss and surface discoloration. Lean meat is also susceptible to deterioration."
Mixon said if wrapped properly, most game meats can be kept frozen for about a year and still retain their flavor. Since most of the "wild taste" of the game is from the fat, trim this off before cooking.
Further tips on transporting, storing and cooking wild game are available from local county extension offices.