Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bone Sour Shame

Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time, knows that I am first and foremost a table hunter and that I'm pretty much fanatical in my approach to field care of meat. I feel that once you shoot and kill an animal, you pretty much owe it to that animal to utilize the meat as efficiently as possible. Wasting game either through purpose or negligence is a shameful thing. In that vein, I'd like to share an experience I had recently.

After tipping over this year's first caribou, my family and I worked diligently and quickly to field dress and quarter the caribou and remove it from the field. The shot occurred at approximately 5:30p and by 7:00p I was packing it to the vehicle. An hour and a half from death to transport- cool temperatures and a stiff breeze had cooled the meat quickly- excellent. A two hour drive to my home (9:00p) and I took the meat, hung it and rinsed it with cold water and washed away all the blood and whatever minor debris it inevitably accumulates from field dressing. I also trimmed off a small amount of bloodshot meat and some miscellaneous fat and inedible bits. After the meat was clean, I hung it in my garage and placed a fan on the floor to keep a steady stream of cool air flowing over it all night. I finally retired to the shower at just after midnight.

I awoke the next morning, sore from previous day's hunt, and went to garage to check on the meat. It was cool, dry and the steady airflow had crusted the meat over beautifully. I made an appointment at the local game processor for the early afternoon to hang the meat and age it and then butcher the caribou into roasts, steaks and burger ready for freezing and storage and eventual consumption by my family. At the requested time (2:00p) I placed the pieces in clean game bags and transported it to the processor where it was tagged, weighed, and hung in a large commercial cooling unit. I've processed game in my home before and while home butchering is quite simple, it is time consuming and with my busier fall schedules the last few years it is simply more convenient to let the pros handle it. I turned the clean, cool meat over the processor and watched them move it into the cooler at 2:40p. A bit over 22 hours from the time the trigger was pulled and I feel like the care I gave the meat during the interim was about all I could have possibly done. I'm not worried about losing one scrap to improper field care. I tell you all this to set the stage for what I witnessed while waiting to check in my caribou and some of the horrendous mistakes I saw.

When I arrived at the processor, someone else was in front of me. The processing staff was bent over a large moose leg with a knife, going through repeated motions of cutting and smelling the meat. From the extreme scowl and the "not-so-friendly" exchange between the staff and the customer I knew I wanted to ease on up to the dock to try to get an idea of what was going on. The staff person had noticed an odd odor about the meat when the person brought it in and decided a thorough inspection was in order and questioned the hunter at length about the time of death, field care, etc. to get a better idea about what was going on biologically.

As the repeated tale went, the hunter and his partner saw two large (and legal) bulls together in a marsh one morning. Hunter One shoots Moose One and down it goes. Hunter Two then implores Hunter One to abandon his animal and pursue Moose Two. The pair pursue Moose Two over hill and dale and finally tip it over in a mini-fusillade of rifle fire in the afternoon. The pair then dress out Moose Two- which takes until dark. They then retired to camp for the night and return to Moose One the following morning...a full 24 hours after shooting it. I apologize if the flow is wrong since the entire exchange was too long and some of the details changed over the course, but this was the best I could decipher.

It biologically makes sense given that Moose One had lain all day in the sun and all night in the marsh. Not field dressed, not quartered, not anything. What I strongly speculate is this- the carcass hit the ground at it's normal body temperature. The moose's marvelous fur, location in a low area away from the breeze, and insulation from the earth by thick marsh grass ensured the meat cooled extremely slowly. Of more concern, the animals viscera and blood contain a lot of water so this warm, wet environment yielded the perfect environment for all the wee beasties living within the carcass to positively flourish. Not only flourish, but using the liquid medium of the moose's own juices spread throughout the carcass from hotter areas (near the core bones) all through the meat. The only pieces that may have escaped are the ones just under the "up" side hide that would have cooled a bit quicker while the hide was exposed to cooler night air. The process is known as "bone sour". It is devastating to edibility of the meat and just as remarkably simple to prevent.

What the processing staff found is that the hunter's inattention and slovenly practices had basically reduced several hundred pounds of wonderful meat to dog food.

I'll refer the reader to a previous piece I wrote on proper field care here. But the basics are that as quickly as you can remove the organs, entrails and blood. Next, remove the hide,quarter the animal, cool it and then get it the heck out of the field. When dealing with animals as large as moose, one at a time for the hunting party is certainly more than enough to attempt to handle- particularly in the early season.

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