Field Care for Your Trophy
AllOutdoor Staff 11.18.19
While it may seem like putting a good shot on an animal means the hunt was a success, this is usually just the beginning. Locating and dressing an animal can be an arduous task in its own right, and requires not only skill, but speed. As soon as the blood stops circulating, the clock starts ticking.
Often, though, there are factors that make it difficult to quickly track down a deer after it’s been shot. Perhaps nightfall is shortly after you begin trying to find the animal and you are now left in the dark with no obvious trail. Other times, the animal may be fatally shot but doesn’t expire right away, and you must wait a while before you follow up.
Whatever the case, having a kill slip through your fingers is frustrating and disheartening, especially since you only have so much time before the animal goes bad. Before dangerously trying to track a kill in the dark or following a wounded animal, it’s important to know just how much time you have before your harvest actually goes bad.
What’s The Weather Like?
Climate and weather are probably the most important factors in determining how long you have to recover your harvest. Depending on the temperature at the time the animal was shot, you could have a few days to locate the animal, or maybe just a few hours.
Hotter weather will cause the meat to spoil faster, so if you’re operating in weather that is 80 degrees or more, you will need to act more urgently. Cooler weather will slow down the rotting process, so if you are in cooler weather, you can go about the process a little more carefully. Humidity and moisture can also speed up the rotting process.
If the temperature is warmer and the area is not too humid or rainy, you might have as long as 12 hours; anything past that and you’re pushing your luck significantly. If the temperature is cooler, 24 hours is around the maximum amount of time you want to wait before the meat starts to spoil. In both cases, separate the meat from the guts as quickly as possible and leave behind any meat that was touching ruptured guts; guts rot faster than the meat and will taint any meat they touch.
An important aspect of hunting is avoiding the waste of the animal. Not only is it a loss for you, but it results in an animal’s life being wasted. While you definitely don’t want to eat tainted meat, there are measures you can take to prevent wasting the animal’s body.
If you find the animal within a reasonable time frame but won’t be able to get it on ice for a while, leaving the skin on while dressing it will keep the meat from being exposed to bacteria, dirt, and insects. The guts will spoil more quickly than the rest of the meat, so separating the meat from the guts quickly and removing any meat that has come into contact with rotten guts will help save some of the meat.
All that said, the most important thing to keep in mind is it’s always better to be safe than sorry. No kill is worth endangering your health over. The best way to prevent a wasted kill is to avoid taking risky shots.
Lastly, you don’t need to field dress every deer. If you will be skinning your deer or delivering it to a processor within a couple hours, you may be inclined to leave the entrails in. This will help prevent leaves and sticks from getting into the cavity while you transport your critter out of the woods. It will also provide less opportunity for flies to lay eggs.