of Game and Fish
Generally, the animal you shoot will not have to be bled
out because enough blood vessels will be severed by the
bullet. However, if it has been shot in the head, neck or
spinal cord, it should be bled. If in doubt, bleed it anyway.
One quick method is simply to slash the throat, severing
the major blood vessels at the base of the neck where it
joins the chest cavity (see Figure 1). Elevate the hind
quarters of the carcass to aid in bleeding. If the head
is to be mounted, do not cut the throat because this will
damage the cape for mounting purposes.
Figure 1.The dotted line shows where to sever
the blood vessels to bleed out the carcass.
The animal should be dressed out (entrails removed) as
soon as possible after it is killed to ensure rapid loss
of body heat. Wipe the gutted cavity with a dry or damp
cloth. Keep the animal as clean as possible
Cool promptly and thoroughly by propping the chest cavity
open with a stick to allow air to circulate freely. Hanging
the carcass up aids cooling, too. Heat remains in the body
longer when it's left on the ground and heat hastens spoilage.
The animal can be quartered and wrapped in muslin or cheesecloth.
Avoid using tarps or canvas bags, which tend to hold in
heat. If the weather is warm, it's even more urgent to clean
the animal as quickly as possible. A simple way to cool
an animal on a hot day is to buy bags of ice cubes to put
into the body cavity. Be sure to leave the ice in the bags.
Game birds offer much variety in flavor and should be cared
for just as carefully as big game animals. Remove the entrails
and crop as soon as possible after shooting. This allows
air to circulate in the body cavity and aids in cooling
the carcass quickly and thoroughly. If the weather is hot,
the birds should be placed individually in plastic bags
and put on ice. In any case, avoid piling warm birds in
Plucking or picking is a matter of personal preference.
Some hunters like to pick feathers while the bird is warm.
Others say a thoroughly chilled bird is easier to pluck.
The trick in plucking birds, warm or cold, is to pick only
a few feathers at a time rather than a handful.
To pluck, remove coarse feathers first, then the smaller
feathers as you proceed. Pinfeathers can be removed with
tweezers or the tip of a small knife and the forefinger.
A mixture of melted paraffin and boiling water (3/4 pound
paraffin to 7 quarts water) brushed over the bird and allowed
to harden will remove down. It is important to have water
hot before adding paraffin. Paraffin added to cold water
could produce a film on the surface, which could lead to
an explosion. The bird also may be dipped in the paraffin
mix. Remove the paraffin coating and the down comes off.
Repeat if needed. Some people prefer to singe birds; however,
the bird has a nicer appearance if paraffin is used. Pinfeathers
also come out easily with paraffin. Therefore, if you plan
to roast some birds, use the paraffin method.
Birds can also be scalded by dipping in hot water (145 degrees
Fahrenheit). This relaxes the muscle tissue around each
feather so the feathers can be removed easily. However,
if the birds are held for several hours or frozen before
plucking, then scalding may break down the fatty tissue
in the skin, resulting in difficult plucking and skin tears.
Some birds pick easier than others. Immature birds will
generally have pinfeathers (especially early in the season)
and more tender skin. If you wish to serve birds whole,
you probably will prefer to pick them. One general rule
may be to pluck the larger, more perfect birds and skin
those that are smaller or badly shot up.
The large tendons that run up into the shank can be removed
easily at this time if you haven't removed the feet. Cut
through the skin of the leg one and one-half inches above
the hock joint (Figure 2). Don't cut the tendons. Lay the
bird at the edge of a table with the cut just above the
table edge. The leg should project over the table edge.
Press the leg down sharply with the side of the hand. The
bone should snap at the joint. Tendons should come away
with the foot. If they tear away from the feet, remove one
by one with a skewer or tweezers.
Fishy-tasting ducks or those that feed on aquatic vegetation
and animals probably should be skinned.
Figure 2. Removing the tendons from
What about the fish you catch? It's best to keep the fish
you catch alive as long as possible. A metal link basket
or a live box is much better than a stringer. Don't throw
fish in the bottom of the boat. An ice chest with ice is
a good way to keep them fresh. The sooner fish are cleaned
and cooled, the better they will taste. A quick method is
to cut the throat as you would any game animal, remove gills
and entrails, wipe the surface, put the fish in plastic
bag and put on ice. You can finish the job later.
The digestive juices of fish are strong. If fish are not
cleaned promptly they will begin to digest the entrails,
causing off-flavors to seep into the meat. The flesh on
the inside of fish gets soft and off-flavored in the rib
area. Bleeding is important, too, because the blood quickly
breaks down and seeps into the meat. Simply cut the throat
and remove the gills.
When fishing in the winter, be sure to keep fish covered,
as the wind will dry them out. Fish can be frozen whole,
just as they come out of the water. Choose this method if
fish freeze before they are cleaned. Simply wrap in freezer
paper. Keep frozen. Then when you are ready to prepare the
fish to eat, thaw in cold water and clean as you would freshly
The question of whether or not to age game meats has always
been a point of discussion among hunters. Many practical
considerations such as the temperature at the time of harvest,
the chilling rate, the age of the animal, the proper storage
place for aging and the intended use of the meat need to
be determined if you plan to age your game.
Aging of meat is defined as the practice of holding carcasses
or cuts at temperatures of 34 F to 37 F for 10 to 14 days
(Figure 3). This allows the enzymes present in the meat
to break down some of the complex proteins contained in
the carcass. Aging of meat usually improves tenderness and
Figure 3. Immediately after
death, all meat decreases in tenderness (indicated by the
downward slope of the line from zero to one day postmortem).
From one to approximately 14 days, tenderness increases
at a constant rate. After 14 days of aging, tenderness continues
to increase but at a much slower rate.
Because mammals and birds forage for food, their muscles
may develop more connective tissue than muscles of domestic
animals. Exercise can be given as a reason for less tender
meat. Tenderness is generally inversely related to age of
the animal at harvesting. The tenderest meat comes from
young, healthy, alert animals. The condition of the animal
prior to harvest has an overall effect on the quality of
the meat. If an animal has run a long distance before being
killed it will have depleted its reserve glycogen stores,
which may result in meat which is darker in color (a brownish-red
to a purplish-black) and may be sticky or gummy in texture.
Consequently, this meat does not decrease to a normal pH
of 5.6-5.8, but stays at a pH greater than 6. This decreases
the keeping quality of meat and increases the potential
of bacterial growth.
Not all meat should be aged. Young game animals are tender
by nature. Aging game that has been skinned often results
in excessive weight loss, dehydration and surface discoloration
of the lean tissue because there is little or no fat cover
on the carcass. The meat is also exposed and susceptible
to deterioration by bacteria and mold growth. Processing
game meats into sausage or ground meats should be done as
soon after harvest as possible to minimize weight loss from
drying and deterioration due to microbial growth. Grinding
or chopping tenderizes game so aging is not necessary. If
you prefer to age your game, leave the hide on the carcass
and maintain proper temperature.
Whether or not to age birds is also a matter of personal
preference. Young game birds have lighter legs, soft breastbones
and flexible beaks. Older birds have darker, hard-skinned
legs, hard and brittle breastbones and inflexible beaks.
They need to be aged longer than young birds. If you do
not have a cooler in which to put the birds, the weather
can affect the aging process. Hot, muggy conditions accelerate
aging. Sometimes birds are not dressed before aging. (The
authors do not recommend this.) Hang the birds by the feet
in a cool, dry, airy place. Feathers should be dusted with
charcoal and covered with cheesecloth to protect from insects.
Game meats may be drier and less tender than meats of domestic
animals, but richer in flavor. Strong flavors are more generally
pronounced in the fat of game species, so trimming fat from
a carcass or individual cut can be important. The fat from
large game animals such as deer, moose or elk is highly
saturated so it should always be served piping hot or very
cold to avoid the clinging of fat to the mouth and the greasy
taste. Since game meats have little fat covering, you may
need to add cream, butter or cooking oils to maintain the
juiciness of the meat. Game meats may be substituted for
beef or other meats in your favorite recipes for chili,
soups or stews.
Game meat flavor may be enhanced with the use of marinades.
Commercial liquid marinades or dry mixes are available.
Consider also using fruit juices such as pineapple or lemon
juice, vegetable juices such as tomato juice, Italian or
French dressing or your favorite marinade recipe.
Avoid overcooking, which may further dry out the meat.
Use a food thermometer to measure doneness, which will help
ensure both a high-quality and safe recipe.
Plucked game birds can be roasted without fear of drying
them out because the fat beneath the skin will absorb into
the meat. However, if birds are skinned, it is advisable
to wrap them with bacon, dredge with flour or put them in
oven bags to prevent the bird from drying out while cooking.
Another option: dip a slice of bread in egg and milk and
place on the surface of the bird while roasting.
If the bird is to be cut into small pieces, test the joints
and bones to determine the cookery method. If the joints
are stiff and the bones brittle, this indicates the bird
is old and should be braised (simmered in a covered pot
with a small amount of liquid) or stewed to make it more
tender and enjoyable. If the joints are flexible and bones
soft, the bird can be fried. Use a food thermometer to gauge
doneness of game birds.
Food Safety Recommendations
Like other high-protein foods, wild game, birds and fish
must be handled carefully in the kitchen. Bacteria and other
microorganisms can easily be spread through a kitchen by
unwashed hands, equipment or mishandled food. To reduce
risk of foodborne illness, follow these food safety rules:
•Wash your hands for
at least 20 seconds with soap and water before beginning
to work and after changing tasks or after doing anything
that could contaminate your hands, such as sneezing or using
•Start with clean equipment.
After using, clean equipment thoroughly with hot soapy water.
•After washing cutting
boards, other equipment and surfaces with hot soapy water
and rinsing, sanitize with a solution of 1 tablespoon chlorine
bleach per gallon of water (or approximately 1 teaspoon
per four cups water). After spraying the surface or dipping
cutting boards in the solution, allow to air-dry. Remake
sanitizing solution daily.
•Thaw frozen meat in
a refrigerator at 40 degrees or below on the lowest shelf
to avoid dripping of juices on ready-to-eat foods. Meat
also may be safely thawed in a microwave oven (immediately
followed by cooking), sealed in a plastic bag and placed
under cold running water, or as part of the cooking process.
•Use separate cutting boards for cutting up raw meat
and ready-to-eat foods like salad ingredients and bread.
•Marinate meat in the
refrigerator. Cover the container with a lid or plastic
wrap and rotate/shake so the marinade coats the meat. For
best flavor, allow to marinate at least four hours. Do not
re-use marinade that has been in contact with meat; save
out some marinade for use as a dipping sauce. Use the marinated
meat within 48 hours.
•Use a food thermometer
to measure doneness of game meats. For safety, cook game
meats and birds to an internal temperature of at least 165
leftover cooked meat in shallow pans. Use within two to
courtesy, University of North Dakota