Cooling Meat in the backcountry

530Chukar

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Just wanted to hear everyone's thoughts on cooling elk quarters in the backcountry. I'm hoping to draw a bull hunt in early September this year where the temps can range up to 100 degrees. Ideally I would have ice chests in the truck to pack the meat back to but when you're 7 miles in it isn't necessarily practical to get all the meat out in a timely manner without stock. What are some methods that some of you have used? I am curious about using streams to cool boned meat quickly. I have read other posts where some people will submerge the quarters in creeks until the temperature drops and then hang or pack out the meat. My number one concern would be to dry the meat after removing it. Another method I've read was to drop the meat into large trash bags, double bagging them and then submerging in the creek to cool. What's everyone's thoughts? I remember listening to one or the Meateater Podcasts recently in which Rinella had a method for cooling meat that he mentioned on a NPR show and was later reprimanded by his network for the method that he mentioned and would not repeat it? Any ideas on what that may have been?
 

coop22250

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It was not nearly as hot as that for us on a goat hunt but was really warm this year. We brought a large waste bag made for oily waste in mechanical environment. They are extremely thick, I think 8 or 10 mil. We put the goat meat, hide, skull all in it and submerged in in a very cold stream. It worked great, stayed dry, and no bugs could get to it, no bacteria from the stream added to it.

I worked at a wild game processing shop when I was younger, a lot of elk hind quarters were sour when they arrived. If you are leaving on the bone, make a cut down to the femur bone to let that heat out. Hind quarters and the neck are the hardest to get cooled in time, and the most often lost due to souring.


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5MilesBack

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If it's hitting 100 degrees during the day, then it's low elevation and going to be warm at night as well. Not too many options other than getting it out quickly or submerging in a creek if available. That's hot.
 

orionsbrother

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I just posted in the Hercules thread. I humped a heavy pack in early September on a hot day. It was a couple of miles it was mid to upper eighties.

I don't have much experience with horses. Just enough to realize that a fragment of the romantic, totally cool, idealistic fantasy of horses that many people have from movies has a better chance of being retained if someone else feeds them, cares for them, rides them, chases them...

Seven miles? 100*?

Hell, five miles, 90*... find a guy with a horse or two.

Cool your meat in the creek, but have a plan to get it out. It could be much cooler at night, but that has its own issues.
 
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Breaking down large pieces into small pieces releases energy. If it were me I wouldn't have a piece much larger than a softball...could be longer such as a back strap but quarters would be broken down into small pieces and layers in the shade to cool. Or under water as already stated. Waters is not going to hurt the meat as much as the heat.
 

Craig4791

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Definitely bone the meat out and get it to an area with shade and a breeze if possible. Id do the creek method with doubled up trash bags if you have the option while making trips. Have your coolers back at the truck already cooled with dry ice and know where to stop and get more on your way out and you should be fine.
 

KJH

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I've double bagged quarters in contractors trash bags and submerged int eh creek. That works, but I would NEVER let my meat touch water from the creek. Never lost one this way, but then again I've never hunted away from the truck when its 100 degrees.
 

Kevin Dill

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This isn't argumentative to any previous post...just offering another perspective:

I killed a moose last September in central AK. The weather was abnormally warm and I had to butcher/pack alone. I came within a hair's width of losing valuable meat in those 50-60 degree temps. 70+ would have been a disaster. Meat goes 'green' a lot faster than many understand and the primary objective is to get it cool, chilled or cold asap. After the hunt I was discussing this situation with a couple friends (who were simultaneously moose hunting in another area) and they both reminded me they have successfully used cold clean water to cool their meat more than once. They put the permeable bags of meat directly in the water and use no plastic bags. The water there is pure enough to drink unfiltered. The (in this case) very cold water washes away excess blood and refrigerates the meat. It only takes hours to get the meat chilled, but they have left it in water for over a full day or more with no issues. Both of them are absolute wild game carnivores and understand good game meat techniques.

I've not had to do it yet, but the next big animal I kill is likely going to have its meat placed in a stream deliberately to wash it clean and get it cold quickly. I used to believe meat needed to drain and dry quickly...that water would cause spoilage...but I've since learned it's not necessarily true. Get it cold first...then drained...then dry.
 

rayporter

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i would also submerge if conditions demanded -without hesitation. i have been lucky so far with big game but i do know of others that lost meat. one group lost several bou. and they had water ???????

why the fear of water?
 

Larry Bartlett

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There's a lot to consider:

1. If you drop them in the creek bagged, dont double bag. The meat will sweat and drain regardless of how many layers of bag is around it. If a creek is available, submerge for 12 hours if you can, then pull 'em out of the bags and let them drain and dry out in the wind. If you do this a fall to below 50 degrees at night, you wont have to worry about blowflies.

2. If your exit strategy is T-72 hours or less, I'd just get it out of the field without spending time cooling it.

3. Deboning is not the best option, it's a last resort to minimize weight or to reduce the threat of bone-sour. If you go this route, just fillet the leg muscles open and remove the bones, but leave the pieces whole and intact to reduce trim requirements at home. It'll cool just fine this way.

4. best case scenario is you allow 18-20 hours post harvest for meat cooling strategies. At 24 hours you should be able to match the core temperatures to the ambient temperature with just airflow, shade, and elevation off the ground. From that 20-hour mark, your exit strategy will be exercised and your meat will be sufficiently cooled for transport.

lb
 

KJH

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Cool discussion.

Going straight into the water would worry me! I guess I did too many water sampling projects in college. Even the cleanest streams in Central AK had a lot of organisms in them...I drank it unfiltered, but the thought of introducing it to the meat makes me nervous.

I get your points, but couldn't get myslef to put it straight into the water unless it was a last resort.
 
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530Chukar

530Chukar

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Cool discussion.

Going straight into the water would worry me! I guess I did too many water sampling projects in college. Even the cleanest streams in Central AK had a lot of organisms in them...I drank it unfiltered, but the thought of introducing it to the meat makes me nervous.
Are there organisms or bacteria, etc. in water than cannot be killed by thorough cooking and freezing at 0 degrees for 7 plus days?
 

Kevin Dill

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Are there organisms or bacteria, etc. in water than cannot be killed by thorough cooking and freezing at 0 degrees for 7 plus days?
I'm not a microbiologist and can't answer that directly. In my mind, the decision to use direct water immersion for meat-cooling comes down to a lesser of 2 evils decision. I wouldn't use water if climate conditions (for meat cooling) were good. But in a scenario where I'm faced with deciding between 1) air-cooling meat in risky-warm temps with almost assured meat deterioration or excess growth of bacteria, or 2) cold water immersion which rapidly chills meat (suppressing bacterial growth) but might expose it to what's in the water...I'm going to go with the water. I have the benefit of knowing it has been done with no bad consequence in the area I hunt. The water is cold, fast and I have no issue drinking it unfiltered...have done that many times. I definitely would NOT recommend that at a stagnant pond in NM with a fine load of elk meat. Every situation needs to be weighed on its own merits. I would always prefer clear, moving water if available. I also know a guy could use plastic bags to keep water away from the meat, and that's a good idea if you feel it makes a difference. It would be pretty impractical for me to do it with 10 bags of moose meat considering my fly-in gear is severely weight-restricted.

The one absolute thing I do know is that water (as used to wash and chill) is not harmful to meat.
 

Tod osier

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Cool discussion.

Going straight into the water would worry me! I guess I did too many water sampling projects in college. Even the cleanest streams in Central AK had a lot of organisms in them...I drank it unfiltered, but the thought of introducing it to the meat makes me nervous.

I get your points, but couldn't get myslef to put it straight into the water unless it was a last resort.
By the time you are done skinning and quartering, your meat is absolutely covered with bacteria - no matter how careful you are. You, the animal and the environment are just covered with bacteria. Most bacteria in the environment is pretty benign as far as food safety - the most likely source from bacteria that can make you sick is the animal itself and that is concentrated on the animal and in the guts (which is why you try not to contaminate the meat with gut contents), but no matter how careful you are, you have contaminated your meat skinning and then touching the meat. Microbes in water are certainly abundant, but the majority are not pathogens. For me the benefit of bagging your meat in water is that I seldom have seen a place where the meat isn't going to pick up a lot of sticks, sand or twigs. A fast flowing stream can have a lot of sand/silt moving in it even if clear and ponds often have a all sorts of broken down vegetation, sand, etc.... I would bag because of that. When I have put meat in bags in water, my bags had silt or vegetation on the outside that I would not want on my meat. If you bag your meat, however, don't think that the organisms in the water are not going to get on your meat. It is really unlikely that you can get the meat out of a bag without contaminating it with the water on the outside - especially something big like an elk or moose hind. Plus how are you cleaning your hands? - stream water that is full of organisms anyway. Where are you putting the meat? - game bags let bacteria right through from what ever surface you put them on.

The bacteria that is a concern for degradation of the meat is not going to grow very fast if the meat gets a crust (= too dry for surface bacteria to thrive) and chilled to proper temp, which is Larry's point and this is something he has studied.
 
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KJH

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I'm sure its mental on my part. A couple of contractor bags (get all the air out) and set them in the cold stream for a few hours has worked for me. The garbage bags are light and cheap, so if that gets me over my mental block, I'll do it again if it was a neceessity.

There are microorganisms and bacteria that your body will kill after ingestion, but exposing the meat to them creeps me out even if they are not pathogens.

Even if it isn't real issue, I can't wrap my head exposing them to creek/river water. I'm a neat freak when it comes to meat care. Not disagreeing with any points anyone has made, as I safely assume you're more knowledgeable than I. Just my preference if I have to cool it quick.
 

Larry Bartlett

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Most bacteria cannot grow or reproduce with temperatures greater than 120 degrees F.

There are thermophil bacteria that do survive >120 degrees, but these are found in or near hot springs and underwater thermal vents.

Bone sour is heat-related spoilage from anaerobic bacteria (dont need oxygen to survive), and will be spoiled regardless of cooking temps...
 
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