Skip to main content

Steven Rinella: The Bear Facts on Trichinosis

Steven Rinella: The Bear Facts on Trichinosis
Rinella is processing this bin of bear meat into summer sausage.

by Steven Rinella

Bear meat is highly edible and can be quite delicious depending on what the bear's been eating and how it's been handled. But before you start messing around with bear meat you need to consider the risk of trichinosis. It's a disease caused by infection of larvae from a type of parasitic round worm known as Trichina spiralis. The worm is the reason why you're traditionally supposed to cook your pork to well done, though trichinosis has been largely eradicated from domestic pork. Nowadays, over 90% of U.S. trichinosis cases are attributable to bear meat, though even that number is relatively small and usually includes far fewer people than your average high school classroom. Other known vectors of the disease in recent decades have included mountain lion, wild boar, and even walrus.

Animals contract trichinosis in the same way that humans do, through the consumption of flesh that is infected with  the worms. Domestic pork used to carry trichinosis largely because of the practice of feeding them uncooked garbage; rats and mice in the garbage were consumed raw along with the trash and the rodents passed along the disease. In 1980, uncooked garbage was banned as pork feed; since then, cases of trichinosis in pork have all but vanished.


Bears, obviously, have not gotten this memo. They still eat whatever they please. In many areas, it's basically just a matter of time before an individual bear eats something and picks up the worm. In Montana's Lincoln and Sanders Counties, 100% of bears over six years of age have tested positive for the parasite.


The first bear I ever killed, well over a decade ago, was an eighteen-year-old bruiser from Lincoln County. I cut out an ounce or so of his tongue and sent it for testing at Montana State University in Bozeman. Sure enough, the test results came back positive. The state informed me that I was excused from the wanton waste laws, which require that all bear meat be salvaged and used. However, I was ineligible for a new bear license.

RELATED RINELLA READ: How To Turn That Bear Hock Into Great Table Fare

By then I'd already processed the meat and had 87 pounds of ground burger and close to 60 pounds of steaks and roasts. A basic survey of literature on the disease suggested that the parasite was very easy to kill with thorough cooking. An internal temperature of 137 degrees Fahrenheit is all it takes, though obviously you want to go a little hotter to make sure. Also, there is strong evidence--though not official government endorsment-- to support the conclusion that freezing infected meat for a month at a temperature lower than 5 degrees will kill it.

So I went ahead and bought a trusty meat thermometer and started eating bear burgers and bear steaks. Obviously, I'm still alive. Now, I don't even bother testing my bear meat. The results are not going to alter my behavior, no matter what they are. I'll still eat my bear meat, cooked to a medium doneness. And even if you contract trichinosis, it doesn't mean you've had your last bear hunt. Early symptoms, if any, include muscle fatigue, diarrhea, heartburn, and fatigue. If you catch it early, it's easily treated. So go ahead and eat that bear meat in your freezer. You've got no excuse to let it sit in your freezer until it's freezer burned.  Remember: you kill it, you eat it.




Steven Rinella is the author, most recently, of American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon. He's also the host of the Travel Channel's The Wild Within. Visit him at  Stevenrinella.com

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

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

New for 2021: MEAT! Grinders, Vacuum Sealers, Accessories

New for 2021: MEAT! Grinders, Vacuum Sealers, Accessories

MEAT! Your Maker, makers of quality meat-processing tools for do-it-yourself hunters. The company's commercial-grade products are built "with quality in mind, not price point" for fellow hunters.

Stuffed Elk Backstrap Recipe

Stuffed Elk Backstrap Recipe

Take your venison loin to a whole new level with this delicious reverse-seared stuffed elk backstrap. Smoking the backstrap on a Camp Chef Woodwind pellet grill first, then finishing it on a blazing-hot skillet or flattop, creates a perfectly cooked, medium-rare steak with a crispy, seared exterior. The filling of diced mushrooms and creamy Boursin cheese adds a whole new level of amazing flavors to an otherwise classic smoked venison loin.

New for 2021: Kershaw & Zero Tolerance Knives

New for 2021: Kershaw & Zero Tolerance Knives

Get your first look at the new Kershaw Launch 13, Brace, and Lucha-Blackwash, as well as the Zero Tolerance 0762 and 0357.

New for 2021: Browning Maxus II Shotgun, Wicked Blend Shotshells

New for 2021: Browning Maxus II Shotgun, Wicked Blend Shotshells

Waterfowlers should take notice at the new products from Browning.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The famous gunmaker – Springfield Armory – stakes its first flag in the hunting world with the new, feature-packed Model 2020 Waypoint bolt-action rifle.New Springfield Model 2020 Waypoint Rifle is a Must-See Guns

New Springfield Model 2020 Waypoint Rifle is a Must-See

Petersen's Hunting Staff - September 29, 2020

The famous gunmaker – Springfield Armory – stakes its first flag in the hunting world with the...

Here's how to toughen up the weakest link in your shooting system.How to Mount a Rifle Scope for Maximum Accuracy Optics

How to Mount a Rifle Scope for Maximum Accuracy

Joseph von Benedikt

Here's how to toughen up the weakest link in your shooting system.

The new Moultrie X-6000 series cellular trail camera and the Moultrie Mobile app are redefining remote and low-impact scouting. Here's why and how one or a network of them can help you.Is a Cellular Trail Camera Right for You? Accessories

Is a Cellular Trail Camera Right for You?

Josh Honeycutt - September 15, 2020

The new Moultrie X-6000 series cellular trail camera and the Moultrie Mobile app are...

Crossbow technology, accuracy and power continue to advance with demand, and this year's crop is the most impressive yet; here's a look at the top five that caught our eye.Ranking the 5 Best Crossbows for 2020 Bowhunting

Ranking the 5 Best Crossbows for 2020

Chris Larsen - September 21, 2020

Crossbow technology, accuracy and power continue to advance with demand, and this year's crop...

See More Trending Articles

More Stories

Choosing to break game laws is bad enough in itself. Having to call for help from the people paidIllegal Hunters Rescued by Wildlife Agents, Win 'Little Help?' Award Stories

Illegal Hunters Rescued by Wildlife Agents, Win 'Little Help?' Award

PH Online Editors - December 12, 2013

Choosing to break game laws is bad enough in itself. Having to call for help from the people...

Go Long While hunting skill is paramount to the sport 'in order to gain a shot opportunity in theVersus: Is Long-Range Hunting Ethical? Stories

Versus: Is Long-Range Hunting Ethical?

Joseph von Benedikt & Mike Schoby - October 14, 2014

Go Long While hunting skill is paramount to the sport 'in order to gain a shot opportunity in...

Dream of a job in the hunting industry? Here's the inside scoop on some of the most coveted positions in the outdoors.17 Dream Jobs in the Outdoor Industry Stories

17 Dream Jobs in the Outdoor Industry

Kali Parmley

Dream of a job in the hunting industry? Here's the inside scoop on some of the most coveted...

If there's one word that describes us rednecks, it's innovative. If one of our favorite pastimesThe Redneck Pontoon Picnic Table Stories

The Redneck Pontoon Picnic Table

Awesome Rednecks - July 25, 2013

If there's one word that describes us rednecks, it's innovative. If one of our favorite...

See More Stories

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Petersen's Hunting App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

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

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Hunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now