big game

VIDEO - Field to freezer: tips for processing your big game animal

You successfully shot a deer, elk or other big game animal. Now the work begins. You want to properly process the animal so you get many healthy, enjoyable meals from it.

Here’s the basic cheat sheet: Gut it, skin it, keep it clean and keep it cool.

But you should know more if you want the best quality game meat, and you should. Not only will it be better eating, it will give you the satisfaction knowing you harvested and processed safe, organic and nutritious meat from pulling the trigger to sizzling it in the frying pan.

Here’s how to make it happen:

In the field

  • Be prepared to process an animal any time you’re hunting. Have your knives sharp, game bags ready, rope and/or tarp to keep the meat off the ground when you’re quartering.
  • You may want to leave the hide on if while removing the animal from the field, depending on the outside temperature. There’s a trade off because meat cools quicker when an animal’s hide is removed, and retained body heat contributes to faster spoiling.
  • Remember it’s always easier to keep meat clean than remove dirt later, and dirt carries bacteria.
  • For smaller animals such as deer and pronghorn, hang and skin the animal when you get them out of the field. A skinned animal cools quicker. Larger animals such as elk and moose should be quartered for cooling. A large animal left with the hide on can spoil even in freezing temperatures.
  • Clean your knife after gutting an animal, or use a different one when you start quartering. You don’t want to introduce bacteria from the entrails to the meat.

At camp or at home

  • Try to keep meat hung in camp or at home below 40 degrees. Bacteria grow more rapidly above 40 degrees. Temperatures below 40 degrees slow bacterial growth, but will not kill it.
  • Use clean, cool water to rinse as much blood off as possible from the carcass and trim away blood-shot meat. Scrape away jellied blood. Blood’s PH level makes it susceptible to bacteria.
  • You can also wipe a carcass with a solution of water and vinegar, which kills bacteria.
  • Get as much water as possible off the carcass before putting a game bag on it. If insects aren’t an issue, let it air dry overnight.
  • Do not allow the carcass to freeze while hanging. It stops the tenderizing process, and if frozen within 12 hours of the kill can make the meat tough.
  • If you’re hanging meat in camp, keep it in the shade. If the carcass or quarters will be directly exposed to the sun during the day, string a tarp in front of it.
  • Aging a carcass for 5-7 days can improve tenderness, but should only be aged that long if the temperature can be held between 34 and 40 degrees. A meat-processing facility is your best bet.
  • Aging is not recommended for young animals or those with little or no fat covering. Young animals are already tender, and lean animals will dry during aging.
  • Do not age a game carcass if it is shot during warm weather and not chilled rapidly, if the animal was severely stressed prior to the kill (such as running a long distance), or if there is extensive gun-shot wounds.
  • Meat that is to be ground into burger or sausage does not need to be aged.
  • Do-it-yourself meat cutters can watch a new video on Idaho Fish and Game’s website that shows how to butcher and prepare big game for the freezer. How to remove the muscle groups from the bone, deciding on various cuts, and how to properly package are all covered. The video is at

In the kitchen

Live Chat (Archive) - 2015 Big Game Seasons Proposals

You're welcome to review our March 4 Live Chat on this page. This live chat served as one additional opportunity for sportsmen to comment for the 2015 Big Game season proposals.

All of Idaho's Big Game managers from across the state answered your questions.  

The you can still comment on the proposals in the 2015 Season Proposals for each region through March 8. The next comment opportunity will be at the March 23rd public hearing to the Idaho Fish and Game Commisison.


Thank you to all who participated!

Big Game Management Quantity vs Quality

In an attempt to recover the money loss due to the lack of out-of-state hunters you are now selling tags second tags to in-state hunters. While I welcome in state hunter opportunities what are you doing to improve the reason we lost out-of-state revenue i.e. the lack of quality hunting opportunities? It appears the objective is to sell the most tags possible. If the quality of elk and deer improved out-of-state hunters would return and Idaho Fish and Game income would return. Instead it appears we continue to manage for spikes and two points and call it win-win.

Southwest Region Big Game Hunting Seasons 2014 - Evening and Afternoon Sessions

Hunters are invited to join an online chat with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and ask questions, give feedback, and learn more about proposed changes to the 2014 big game hunting seasons in the Southwest Region.     

Hunters can chat live with wildlife biologists from the Nampa and McCall offices from noon to 1 p.m., and again from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. (MST) Wednesday, February 26. To participate, return to this page. You can also add your email to a reminder at the event that fits your schedule. 

Some proposed changes in the Southwest Region include:

In addition to the live chat, Fish and Game will host public open house meetings throughout the state during February.  A complete list of statewide deer, elk, pronghorn, wolf, black bear and mountain lion hunt proposals and a way to submit comments online will be available on the Fish and Game website after February 17.   


Early afternoon chat session