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For Better Living: Safe Handling of Wild Game

Sandra CainBy Sandra R. Cain

After the big hunt, hunters are eager to prepare the meat for a meal. Most game meats are low in fat compared to domestic animals. The care of any wild game begins with planning prior to the hunt. Game must be cooled as soon as possible to preserve its natural taste and ensure safety.


* Hunters should not handle or consume wild animals that appear sick or act abnormally, regardless of the cause.

* Always wear heavy rubber or latex gloves when field dressing deer.

* If intestinal contents contact meat, consider the meat contaminated; cut off and discard affected area.

* Handle carcasses properly. Cool carcass rapidly in the field (bags of ice can hasten cooling). Age carcass at or below 40°F for no longer than 5-7 days. Hang birds by feet at less than 40°F for 2-3 days maximum. If the air temperature is above 50 degrees, a deer carcass should be refrigerated within three to four hours after killing.


Wild game provides wholesome, nourishing food, but should be preserved carefully to retain quality. Like domestic meat, wild meat is perishable, so care is needed to maintain its quality. Freezing meat is the most accepted way to maintain top quality.

* Wash hands with soap and water before and after handling meat and poultry.

* Keep raw meat and cooked meat separate to prevent cross-contamination.

* Wash your knife, hands and cutting board often with warm, soapy water.

* Trim fat and inedible parts from the carcass when it is cut.

* Sanitize equipment and work surfaces often during handling and processing meat and poultry with a bleach solution (1 Tbs. Bleach to 1 gallon of water)

To Store in Refrigerator for Immediate Use: Wrap the meat in moisture-proof plastic wrap or place in a clean plastic storage bag. Store the meat in the refrigerator and use within 2 or 3 days.

To Freeze Game Properly:

* Freeze meat while it is fresh and in top condition.

* Divide meat into meal-size quantities.

* Prevent “freezer burn” by using good-quality freezer paper. Use moisture/vapor-proof wrap such as heavily waxed freezer wrap, laminated freezer wrap, heavy-duty aluminum foil or freezer-weight polyethylene bags.

* Press air out of the packages prior to sealing.

* Label packages with contents and date.

* Freeze and store at 0 °F or lower.

* Avoid overloading the freezer. Freeze only the amount that will become solidly frozen within 24 hours.

* Avoid long storage periods. Limit fresh game to eight months frozen storage and seasoned or cured game to four months frozen storage. In most states hunting laws require that all wild game be used before the next hunting season. Check regulations for amount of game you can keep and length of time that you can keep it.

Other methods for preserving game meats include curing and smoking, drying, corning, canning and sausage making..

To Thaw Frozen Meat: Thaw in the refrigerator or microwave oven. Game meat is often high in bacterial content. Thawing at room temperature enhances bacterial growth. Foods thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately. Refrigerator-thawed meat should be used within one or two days.


Game animals lead active lives. As a result, their muscles are relatively lean. This makes game meat drier than domestic meat or poultry. Therefore, it is important to use cooking methods that add juiciness and flavor to game meat.

Cooking Tips:

* Trim away fat before cooking if this was not done when the game was cut. Wild game fat tends to become rancid quickly and this contributes to the “game” flavor.

* Add other fats to keep game meat from becoming too dry. Rub a roast with salt pork, butter, margarine, or sweet or sour cream to add moisture, richness and flavor.

* Baste very lean cuts with additional fat to improve flavor.

* Use a meat thermometer to cook meat to proper internal temperatures. There are several types of meat thermometers available, which are easy to use and can be read instantly or remain in meat while it cooks. This helps ensure harmful bacteria are killed and meat is not overcooked. The color of meat is an unreliable indicator of doneness.

* Serve game meat very hot or very cold. Lukewarm game fat has a very greasy taste.

Marinades: Marinades can tenderize, enhance or disguise game flavors to fit your preference. Cover meat with one of the following marinades and allow to stand in the refrigerator at least 24 hours. Broil, roast or braise.

* 2 cups vinegar, 2 cups water, ½ cup sugar

* French dressing, tomato sauce, undiluted tomato soup or tomato juice

* Fruit juice (such as lemon, pineapple or a mixture of many juices)

* ¼ cup vinegar, ½ cup cooking oil, ½ teaspoon pepper, ¼ teaspoon garlic salt

* 2 cups water; 2 cups vinegar; 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar; 4 bay leaves; 1 teaspoon salt; 12 whole cloves; 1 teaspoon allspice; 3 medium sized onions, sliced

* Garlic salt, salt and pepper to taste and equal parts of: Worcestershire sauce and two of your favorite steak sauces

* 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1½ teaspoons ground ginger, 1 clove garlic minced, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, ½ cup soy sauce, ¾ cup vegetable oil

SOURCES: South Carolina Cooperative Extension, Clemson University

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