By Mike Willis
Cool, Clean, and Dry; this is how wild game meat must remain while transporting it out of the field. If you are considering a DIY elk hunt, be sure that you are equipped to handle your success!
Game bags are essential for the western big game hunter. Game bags have multiple purposes that will ensure the quality of your meat is preserved. As you quarter your elk, you will carefully place the meat in game bags to keep it clean. There is nothing worse than losing valuable meals due to trimming off dirt! People who lay quarters in the dirt are usually the same people who give most of their elk away.
Game bags are designed to maintain airflow around the meat. The meat needs to breathe as it is cooling; this is why people don’t transport it in trash bags. Air circulation also allows a slight crust to form on the outside surface. This crust, or rind, is important for protecting and preserving the meat. The crust makes the surface of the meat dry to the touch, preventing dirt and debris from sticking to it. The crust also prevents additional moisture from leaving inner (unexposed) meat.
Another challenge for transporting meat from the field is dealing with flies. Flies are attracted to a carcass, so plan to have some company. Quickly placing quarters in game bags will significantly reduce the fly’s access. However, they can still get on the game bag and leave their nasty little larvae.
The quality of the game bag is very important during those warm days. The tighter the weave on the fabric, the less access to the meat that flies will have. Cheap bags stretch a lot. When these bags stretch, you can literally see the meat peeking through.
Treated Bags and Sprays
There are recipes for spraying down your game bags with a citric acid-based solution. This acidic blend deters flies and prevents them from laying their eggs on the meat. Certain game bag companies also sell bags pre-treated with a solution, and the bags are marketed as antimicrobial. Additionally, there are aerosol sprays available containing similar mixtures as well.
While these natural acids are considered safe, they do affect the taste of the meat. For this reason, you shouldn’t use them unless it is necessary. I keep antimicrobial bags in my pack during the hot days of bow season. As the season progresses, I exchange my game bags for untreated products. While having some altered flavor is certainly not ideal, it beats flicking maggots off your meat during the butchering process.
When purchasing your game bags, check the size to ensure that they are for an elk. There are “large-sized” game bags that are good for packing deer out of the mountains. However, they will not be sufficient for animals, such as elk. Elk game bags are considered “extra-large.” Make sure that you have at least five game bags. Five game bags will allow you to carry out the four quarters and a bag of trim. The bag of trim will hold back straps, neck meat, flank, and skirt steaks. If you keep ribs, you will need additional bags.
If you purchase two sets of quality game bags, you will be ready to handle that big bull when it hits the ground. Having one set that is treated and one set that isn’t, will give you the flexibility to deal with any situation or conditions. Taking the time to find quality game bags will be a big step towards preserving exceptional meat that will feed your family all year.