The fall turkey season opened yesterday, of course, and with the start of the rabbit and pheasant seasons last weekend, all species of small game are also now in play. We are well into the second half of the archery deer season, and bowhunters who haven't taken a buck yet are undoubtedly anticipating the increased deer activity that will come as the rut begins to unfold during the final weeks of the season.
For the next few weeks, hunters will have a greater variety of things to hunt than at any other time of the year, not to mention the opportunity of many fine meals for those who are successful at harvesting their favorite species of game.
Most game birds and animals we hunt nowadays are prized for their table qualities nearly as much as for the sporting challenges they present in the field. A fine meal with wild game as the main dish is a perfect way to celebrate the season or a successful hunt with family and friends. Some folks, however, have an aversion to eating wild game. In some cases, that is an emotional response to the thought of eating a wild animal rather than a domesticated chicken, cow or pig. Others simply dislike the taste of game, and some game certainly possesses a more robust and distinctive flavor compared to what most of us are used to in domestic meats.
One thing I've always found disturbing, however, is those folks who have been turned off to wild game by having tried something that was not handled properly in the field and was, quite frankly, not really fit to eat. Unfortunately, that situation happens far too often and results in the waste of a great game bird or animal along with giving a wrongful impression of its eating qualities. Because I consider a few meals of wild game each fall such a special treat, I routinely take extra care of the animals I harvest to ensure they are top quality when they arrive in the kitchen.
The most important thing to remember is that once you have pulled the trigger and the animal or bird is down, it becomes food and should be treated that way. No one with any common sense would go to the grocery store in the morning, buy a package of fresh chicken, beef or pork, and then carry it around all day in a backpack or leave it unrefrigerated in trunk of their car. And who would want to eat meat that had been handled in such a manner? Sad to say, however, that some hunters treat their game just that way.
Small game should be dressed out as soon as possible and the meat allowed to cool. To accomplish that, I keep what I call my "cutting kit" in my vehicle during the hunting season. It includes several of my favorite skinning and boning knives, all well sharpened; a pair of medium-sized side-cutter pliers for snipping wing and leg bones; zipper-seal plastic food storage bags in assorted sizes; a roll of paper towels; and a small cutting board.
All of those items fit nicely into a deep plastic container that I can fill with clean water to rinse off the meat once I've processed it. I also bring a gallon or two of fresh water for that purpose. For obvious reasons, never wash meat you intend to eat in a stream or other natural water source in the field or woods. Finally, I bring some plastic garbage bags to take away the carcasses for proper disposal. No landowner likes to have the family pet drag home the carcass of some critter discarded by a hunter.
If I'm planning to hunt most of the day during unseasonably warm weather like we experienced last week, I bring a cooler with some ice or those reusable freezer packs to keep meat cool. Another great benefit of taking a few minutes to process game in the field during the hunting day is there is little to do after you get home. Usually that means just rinsing the meat once again or wrapping it for the freezer.
One final tip for getting the best quality from your wild game is to never, but never, soak it in salt water. I'm not sure why so many folks persist in doing this, but the practice is a sure recipe for leeching the flavor from the meat, making it tasteless and unpalatable.
Nobody would ruin a steak, pork chops or chicken parts by marinating them in salt water before cooking. Don't treat your hard-earned wild game that way either.