Six Rules for Proper Meat Care

Six Rules for Proper Meat Care

In an age when Americans are questioning the origin and quality of the meat they consume wild game stands out as one of the best options for feeding our families.

Long before shoppers needed labels to indicate whether or not meat was organically grown, or injected with dyes and hormones, hunters were filling their freezers with low-fat, high-quality protein.


Before you release an arrow or squeeze the trigger this fall be prepared to properly care for game once the animal is down — savory backstraps and tenderloins must first be cared for in the field.

These six rules will help ensure you're bringing home healthy and delicious protein.

Have the Right Gear

We, as hunters, spend a lot of time gathering and tuning our gear for fall hunts, but don't overlook the need for quality field care tools. For most of us this begins with a knife, and there are plenty of good options.

The key is to select a knife with a sturdy blade made of high quality steel and to keep that knife sharp enough to accomplish the task at hand. A sharp knife helps make precise cuts and reduces the odds of accidentally cutting into the digestive tract.

Ideally, your knife blade should remain sharp throughout the entire process of field dressing, but don't forget to pack a whet stone or other sharpening tool so you can maintain a fine edge. Disposable gloves are important too, and you'll need to pack clean cloths or paper towels.


In some instances — particularly backcountry hunts — you'll need an axe and a saw to quarter game, and be certain you pack plenty of meat bags as well. I've seen knife blades break during field processing, so I always carry at least one spare in case it's needed. If you're in bear country you'll need rope to hang the meat out of reach of predators should you be camping.

Reduce Contamination

Contamination can lead to meat spoilage, so from the time the animal is down until it is served reducing the odds of contamination is of primary importance.

Reducing contamination actually begins before the kill; a good clean shot to the vitals eliminates the odds that a ruptured digestive tract will spoil meat. Once the animal is down begin by moving it to a clean and cool place for skinning and field dressing.

Carefully remove the entire digestive tract while preventing the bacteria-rich contents to contact the meat. Plant materials, hair, dirt, and other items are the most common culprits of contamination. When quartering and removing meat from the carcass store in clean meat bags.

Cool It

Meat spoils more quickly in warm temperatures, be sure you make every effort to keep it as cool as possible. Start the cooling process by removing the internal organs and avoiding direct sunlight.

Opening the body cavity and skinning will allow it to cool properly. When possible, you can pack the body with ice or snow so long as they are placed in sealed bags. Hanging also allows the meat to cool by increasing airflow, but the best option is to get your game to a refrigerated area as soon as possible.


Ideally you want to keep the meat below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but not below 32 degrees since freezing meat before rigor sets in can actually toughen the meat.

Avoid Moisture

As previously stated, bacterial contamination is one of the leading causes of meat spoilage. Bacteria thrive in moist environments, so your goal should be to keep the meat dry. If it's raining or you wash the inside of the carcass with water be sure to dry it thoroughly (this is where those paper towels in your pack will prove invaluable).

Blood will also increase the odds of bacterial contamination, clean it away from the meat as quickly as possible. Again, these rules are of particular importance in warm environments that speed bacterial growth, on warm days early in the season it is imperative to take steps to dry the meat.

Proper Processing

Not all wild game processors are created equal, make sure the facility that handles your meat is prepared to properly handle game.

If the processor doesn't keep the meat clean and refrigerated, or doesn't take the necessary steps to avoid contamination, all your work in the field will be in vain. If you are processing in your home take the time to wash knives, other tools, hands, and cutting surfaces with warm, soapy water and dry thoroughly. Again, storage below 40 degrees is the key, and if you plan to age the meat do so in these temperature ranges for at most three days.

Properly Store Meat

If you plan to eat meat without freezing it can be stored in a refrigerator for 2-3 days, and marinating should occur in the refrigerator as well. Heating meat to 160 degrees Fahrenheit will kill bacteria. Keep a meat thermometer on-hand when preparing wild game.

If you plan to freeze the meat — which you will undoubtedly have to do unless you have an extraordinarily large and hungry family — wrap it in heavy wax paper, freezer wrap, vacuum bags or similar materials and make certain all of the air is out of the container before sealing.


It's best to write the date and cut of meat on the exterior packaging. Attention to detail makes it possible to know know what's inside the package and will allow you to consume within nine months to a year.

One critical element that many hunters forget is to keep meat separated in the freezer so that it can properly cool until it is frozen solid, usually about 24 hours. Afterwards you can stack the meat to make the most of available space.

Recommended for You


Booth Babes from the 2012 SHOT Show

PH Online Editors - January 18, 2012

Companies in the outdoor industry know how to get our attention. We know, it might seem cheap,...


HUNTING's Booth Babes of SHOT Show 2014

David Draper - January 21, 2014

A record crowd of more than 67,000 people fell upon the halls of the Sands Expo & Convention


Top Precision Rifles for Hunting in 2019

Joseph Von Benedikt - April 22, 2019

Here are our top choices for hunting this fall!

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 16: Cedar Break Bucks

Kevin Steele treks to the cedar breaks and coulees of north-central Nebraska for a shot at a big prairie whitetail.

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 11: Wheelgun Buffalo

Host Craig Boddington lays claim to hunting more than 100 Cape Buffalo over the course of his 40 plus year career, but he never took one with a handgun. That changed in South Africa when Craig faced down "black death" with a magnum wheelgun.

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 14: Swamp Bulls

With his Mozambique forest bull in the salt, Craig Boddington sets his sights on the Marromeu grasslands in pursuit of a swamp buffalo.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

North America

Best States To Hunt For Black Bears

Joseph von Benedikt - July 13, 2017

Which are the best states to hunt for black bears? I have compiled a list of several great...

North America

Best Units for Hunting Western Mule Deer

Josh Dahlke - June 23, 2015

My deer-hunting seeds were planted and nurtured as a youngster on my family's small farm in


8 Great Youth Guns Designed for Growing Hunters

Brad Fitzpatrick - July 18, 2016

Looking for a great gun for the young hunter in your family? Here are eight favorites from the

See More Stories

More Recipes


Rabbit and Dumplings Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

A comforting soup recipe featuring lean rabbit meat, vegetables, and thick dumplings in a...


Sous Vide Venison Tenderloin With Chimichurri Recipe

Emilie Bailey

Bright, garlicky chimichurri pairs perfectly with cooked and seared venison tenderloin. This...


Pheasant Cock-a-Leekie Soup Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Try this recipe the next time you have a few pheasant carcasses you don't have plans for.

See More Recipes

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Temporary Price Reduction.


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.