Using game bags may seem self-explanatory. You put meat into an appropriately sized game bag to keep it clean until it’s time to butcher it. End of story – or is it?
You might be surprised to know that there are actually some very important things you can do to improve the end result. Proper game bag use will help you come home with a higher yield of better tasting wild game meat.
The next time you’re preparing for a hunting trip, remember these tips:
1. Come Prepared
Many hunters don’t put much thought into meat care until they are in the field with an animal on the ground. And by that time, it’s too late. They’ve probably already made mistakes. Nobody likes gamey-tasting meat. And in most situations, it’s caused by totally preventable mistakes.
One of the best things you can do as a hunter who cares about your wild game meat, is to come prepared. As soon as you have an animal on the ground, the countdown begins. You’re on the clock and every decision counts.
We sometimes hear hunters say they don’t use game bags. There are a variety of excuses. But none of them hold water. Of course as a company that makes game bags we’re biased. But the very reason Caribou Gear founder Ted Ramirez set out to design a better game bag was for the sole purpose of better meat care. Simply put, every successful hunter needs game bags. Those who don’t use them either don’t plan on shooting anything or they don’t care how their meat tastes.
When hunting there are many factors you can’t control. You have no control over the temperatures or the conditions. But you can control keeping your meat shaded, dry and clean. Come with a quality set of game bags and a plan for how you’ll expediently move that meat from the kill site to a cooler or some form of cold storage.
2. Keeping it Clean at the Kill Site
Before you begin cutting up a big game animal, get your game bags out of your pack and have them ready. Then, have a plan for how you’ll transfer the meat directly from the carcass to the game bag without getting them dirty. If you’re hunting with a partner, this is much easier. If you’re solo, it’s still doable – but you’ll need a plan.
We recommend using a tarp or other clean working surface. It’s helpful to have a clean place to set the meat down, especially if you’re hunting on your own. From there, you can get the meat into the game bag without getting it dirty. If you have a partner, have them hold a bag open so that you can take the meat directly from the carcass and into the bag without any contact with the ground.
One thing to keep in mind as your’re processing an animal in the field is that blood causes spoilage. Areas of meat that become saturated in blood will be among the first to spoil. For this reason, the gutless method is a big advantage. When you gut an animal, those lower portions of the hindquarters can become soaked in blood. This doesn’t mean they will inevitably spoil – but it’s something to be aware of.
Quartering an animal using the gutless method allows you to remove the hindquarters and the backstraps without saturating them in blood. This is a big advantage, especially if you’ll be hanging meat at camp for a few days while your partners continue hunting. If you do need to gut the animal, do your best to keep the meat as dry as possible during that process.
Once the meat is in game bags, lay them over a log or somewhere in the shade that allows air to circulate around the bag as much as possible. Caribou Gear game bags are breathable and that air circulation is critical. Even on a warm day, being in the shade with good circulation will immediately begin to bring that internal temperature down toward safer levels.
When the meat is cleanly bagged and in a cool, shady place with good circulation – it’s time to begin making trips back to camp or to the vehicle.
A Word on Lock Loops
Those cord loops at the top of your Caribou Gear game bags – those are lock loops, designed to secure the bag with a zip-tie and attach a waterproof/tearproof ID tag. We will go into more detail below when we describe how to care for your meat back at camp. But it’s important to know that these are not designed to hang the bags.
Our friends at GoHunt performed a stress test showing that these lock loops can actually withstand a hanging weight of nearly 200 pounds – more than any hindquarter you’d put in them. Nevertheless, even though they can handle heavy weight, there are much better ways to hang your bags on the meat pole back at camp. Stay tuned for that below.
3. The Work Continues
Meat care is work. It begins as soon as you kill the animal. But even after you get back to camp, the work continues. There are some important things you can do to make sure you come home with a higher yield of high quality protein.
Back at camp, know that you can safely hang meat for an extended period of time when temperatures are appropriate. In fact, Caribou Gear founder Ted Ramirez has successfully kept moose meat in great condition for more than two weeks on long float trips in Alaska. It takes some work – but it’s absolutely possible.
How to Hang Meat
As soon as you get back to camp, do not leave the meat in your pack. Return air circulation as soon as possible by hanging it on a meat pole. As mentioned above, the cord loops at the top of your Caribou Gear game bags are lock loops. We will describe that in more detail below. But when it comes time to hang your meat, use this method:
First take a paracord lashing and tie a non-slip loop at one end (note that we provide pre-cut lashings with loops here). Run the tag end through the loop to create a “lasso”. Secure the lasso around the joint at the end of a shank. Then, loop a half-hitch over the joint once more. Under the weight of the quarter, this will bite down and create a very snug hold around the shank. Tie the tag end of the paracord to the meat pole and you’re all set.
Hanging quarters by the shank instead of the game bag offers a couple of major advantages. Most obviously, it’s very strong. But more importantly, this allows you to remove the bags to clean them – something we’ll explain below.
Seal the Game Bags
Once the quarters are hanging from the meat pole, now lift the game bag up over the top of the shank. Close the draw cord securely above the joint. Then, take the draw cord and wrap it tightly around the top of the shank. This creates a tight closure around the top of the bag. This keeps pine needles or insects from getting into the game bags while hanging at camp.
Clean the Game Bags
If you’re staying at camp for more than a day, we recommend cleaning your game bags. By doing so, you’ll further improve the breathability of any blood-soaked bags. And you can continue hunting with your partners who still have tags to fill.
In the evening after insects have disappeared for the night, remove the game bags from the hanging quarters. Using a natural citric acid spray, lightly spray the outside of the meat. This does a few things. Citric acid is naturally anti-microbial. It will also speed up the forming of a dry glaze or “rind” on the outside of the meat which is the protective layer formed during aging. And finally, it naturally repels insects.
Next, put the bloody game bags in a 5-gallon bucket or plastic tub along with cold water and a squeeze of dish soap. Work the soapy water into the bags and let them soak for an hour. Discard the dirty water and soak the bags in clean, cold water. Continue rinsing until the soap is gone and the blood is cleaned away. You may be surprised at how quickly the bags clean up with just cold water and dish soap.
Hang the clean bags on a line to dry overnight. In the morning before the insects reappear, put the dry game bags back over the hanging quarters. Close the bags over the top of the shanks and seal them according to the description above.
Now in clean bags, you can safely hang and age your quarters for an extended period of time, depending on the outside temperatures. Hang a tarp above the meat pole for shade if needed.
Using an Immersion Bag
If temperatures are a concern, you can bring the core temperature of the meat down by placing it in an immersion bag and lowering it into a creek or river for about an hour. Immersion bags should not be used for longer-term meat storage, as the lack of breathability will cause issues. But it's a quick way to know down that core teperature, and a great way to extend your time in the field when mid-day temperatures are a bit too warm.
Using Lock Loops
As mentioned a couple times above, those loops at the top of your Caribou Gear game bag are lock loops. This is an excellent feature to use when hunting in a group and especially on a guided hunt where it’s important to keep track of your meat and what’s in each bag.
When the drawstring at the top of the bag is drawn closed, use a zip-tie to secure the bag and attach a waterproof/tearproof ID tag. This allows hunters to clearly label the contents of each bag.
The Final Steps
Back at home, it’s time to butcher and package your great-tasting wild game meat. When you take great care of it and use high quality game bags along the way, less trimming means a higher yield of meat.
Before you begin the butchering process, we recommend washing the outside of the meat with a diluted vinegar-water solution. This natural solution cleans away any citric acid spray as well as any debris without affecting the taste or quality of the meat. It will also rehydrate the outer glaze that has formed – which by the way is absolutely a useable part of the meat. When kept clean and well cared for, that outer rind is a great addition to your grind pile.
Contact Us With Questions
Best of luck this season and we hope you bring home plenty of healthy and delicious wild game meat!