SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Discovering Big Game Field Care
By Marie L. Monyak


February 23, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - Every Friday evening, October through April, the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center sponsors a Friday Night Insight Program from 7-8 pm. This is a free audiovisual and speaker program held in their comfortable theatre on subjects concerning Alaska's ecosystem, wildlife, natural resources, native cultures and public lands.

The presentation last Friday was more of a hands-on how-to class on the proper skinning methods and meat care techniques of big game, namely Sitka Black Tail Deer.

Boyd Porter demonstrates an easy method of
transporting a deer by turning it into a backpack.
Photo by Marie L. Monyak

When you look at Bambi, do you think, "Oh, how adorable," or "Mmmm, Venison?" Unless you are thinking in terms of dinner, you may not wish to continue reading beyond this point.

Wildlife Biologist, Boyd Porter, from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Charlie Miller better known as "The Meat Man" from Alaskan and Proud, with the assistance of Lon Rake, brought along a confiscated Sitka Black-tailed deer that was illegally shot this past September and kept frozen until the nights demonstration.

An important point made during the evening was safe handling of the meat to prevent contamination that can lead to the growth of bacteria which ultimately spoils the meat.
Much of what was offered was good old fashioned common sense along with some great tips and suggestions.

Cool it! It isn't something you yell at your kids in the backseat but rather the most important thing you need to do after shooting game. Cooling the meat as quickly as possible will ensure safe healthy game meat for the dinner table rather than spoiled meat left behind for the scavengers.

If leaving the hide on, the following tips by Porter are:

  • With the hide on, submerge the game in a cold creek or lake.
  • Once submerged in cold water long enough to draw the heat from the meat, pack in dry bags and anchor the bag underwater.
  • Bury the whole deer, hide on, in a snow bank. If already gutted, pack the body cavity with snow.

The hide will retain a large percentage of the animal's body heat so removing the hide in the field is a great way to reduce the temperature. More tips outlined by Porter are:

  • Split the brisket and remove the windpipe to allow the neck and chest meat to cool thoroughly.
  • Avoid contaminating the meat with dirt, silty water, hair or stomach content.
  • If you contaminate the meat with either stomach, intestine or bladder contents, wash it completely and quickly.
  • Control flies with a citric mixture from a spray bottle, sprinkle pepper or use a game bag. (Consider spraying the citric mix on the game bag as well as the meat.)
  • In wet weather, get the meat off the ground and under some sort of cover. Allow for airflow while reducing how much moisture reaches the meat.
  • Don't place meat in closed plastic bags unless you're certain the meat has cooled completely.
  • Layer the bottom of a cooler with ice and place the meat directly on the ice or in open bags to allow the heat to escape.

After the meat has cooled using one of several methods you can then hang and allow to air dry. You may wipe or wring out excess water to facilitate drying.

  • No matter which end you hang the deer from be careful that dirt and debris stuck in the hair does not drip down onto the clean carcass.
  • If hanging a whole deer, hang it head up to avoid moisture running inside the body cavity.
  • Allow a dry crust to form on the outside of the hanging quarters.
  • If possible, avoid hanging meat too long in warm weather.
  • For optimum cooling, hang the whole carcass (or bags of meat) in a culvert, or from a bridge over a stream.
  • Before hanging a November buck by the hind legs, make sure to remove the scent gland on the rear hock.

Which brings us to leaving evidence of the sex of the deer as required by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game hunting regulations. During the demonstration, Charlie Miller was able to show the audience that it isn't necessary to leave the testes on the deer as the vas deferens (the tube or sheath leading from the testes) is sufficient evidence of sex. (Note; leaving the head with antlers on, is also proof of sex.)

Charlie Miller's other area of expertise was with the knife. Using just his trusty old pocket knife, well sharpened, he was able to skin the hide from the deer in record time. His three most important tips are:

  • Always use no more than the tip (1/2 to 3/4 inch) of the blade to remove the hide.
  • Always angle the blade toward the hide and away from the meat while skinning.
  • To remove the hide, make your cut at the neck and go completely to the tail and then work around the body.

One benefit of skinning and butchering the meat in the field is that you have less weight to carry back to your camp, boat or home. If you plan on dressing your deer in the field it's always advisable to carry a small tarp to spread under it. Once the hide has been separated from the carcass begin butchering by removing the backstrap, tenderloins, hindquarters, front legs and finally the ribs. Packing the butchered meat in ice is the preferred method.

If you would rather bring the entire deer out, dragging it on the ground is not advisable as it's not only hard on your back and arms but dirt and debris will collect on the carcass. Porter, Miller and Rake demonstrated an easy method of transporting the deer by turning it into a backpack as shown in the picture.

Miller, once again using only a 1/2 inch tip of his knife blade, made a circular cut around the elbow joints leaving the tendons intact. Rake bent the legs forward, breaking the elbows. Miller made another cut in the hindquarter between the tendons forming a slit long enough to slide the front legs through. Porter offered a suggestion that the two left hooves and two right hooves be held together with duct tape, twine or rope to prevent slippage.

Simply slide your arms through the openings as you would a backpack. If the deer is gutted, pack it on your back with the head up and if not yet gutted, then pack head down, as pictured. Care should be taken to tie flagging or brightly colored bandanas on the carcass so nearby hunters do not mistake you and your prize buck as their target.

If you're wondering what happened to the the deer meat after the presention - it wasn't wasted for sake of the program, but rather donated to the local soup kitchen.

The Friday Night Insight Program this week will be "Our State Parks by the Ketchikan Advisory Board." Members Rick Hauver, Jim Shoemaker, Karen Wolfred and Terri Robbins will present a brief summary and overview of the Alaska State Park system, regions and then focus on the eight local State Parks in the Ketchikan District. Community members can let their desires be known in regards to funding or issues about the State Parks.

On the Web:

Alaska Hunting & Trapping Information


Marie L. Monyak is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
A freelance writer is an uncommitted independent writer
who produces and sells articles to a publisher such as SitNews.

Contact Marie at mlmx1[at]

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