by Sam Garro
With such a smorgasbord of game available to us, whether as trophy, meat, pest control or all three, we should be making the most of this natural resource, taking enough for our needs and leaving the rest for another time.
In that way we also maintain a sustainable game environment, not just for us but for the next generation of hunters. However, all that effort to bring back the goods can be in vain unless the meat is properly protected and enjoyed in camp or at home. But first, some general comments to derive a better appreciation of game meat and its use.
The taste of game meat depends on the size and age of the animal or bird bagged and how it’s prepared and cooked. Young game is generally preferred for its tenderness and less gamey taste but in other places such as Europe, the larger and more mature the animal and the stronger the gamey taste, the more it’s relished.
These days, there are a number of restaurants specialising in game dishes from kangaroo, emu and deer (venison) to crocodile and camel. Some have made kangaroo and goat meat a part of their regular dietary intake due to its low fat and cholesterol content, while others simply enjoy game meat for its unique flavour and texture. It’s interesting how game meat can win favour with people under certain conditions. During the Depression, the humble rabbit became the staple diet for many struggling on the land.
Nowadays in addition to local consumption, there is a growing overseas demand for Australia’s feral and farmed game products. The wild boar is a highly-prized gourmet meat in a number of European countries, especially Germany. At the top of our feral game exports is goat with plenty going to Asia, India and the Middle East. Deer is sent to Asian countries for its medicinal and supposed aphrodisiac properties.
I often cringe when I hear of conservation authorities culling feral or environmentally destructive animals such as the feral pig, deer, kangaroo, donkey, camel, Asiatic water buffalo and banteng, being left to lie where felled to waste away or be consumed by predating birds and animals.
This seems especially disappointing in regards to deer, Asiatic water buffalo and banteng, when we consider the effort and expensive exercise a sporting shooter goes to for the privilege to hunt them. Obviously, there is a necessity to protect the flora and fauna, and at times prevent the spread of diseases, but it’s a resource that could be better managed, not just for the meat but for other by-products such as leather and oil.
And when we are successful, we need to ensure the meat we take away is properly preserved for consumption and not lost to the elements or the dreaded blowfly. However, there are instances when only the ivories, horns or antlers are worth taking due to the age or bad condition of the animal.
Preserving game meat
Meat nets: In my early days of hunting, my initial attempts to bring back a piece of pork for the spit failed dismally, botched by the wretched blowfly laying its eggs in various crevices. In those days, it was a case of loading the car boot and back seat of the Falcon sedan with the gear, food and provisions, before heading off to our property in outback NSW for a four- to five-day hunt. At the time, no thought was given to taking a trailer with eskies and ice.
Searching for a better method to protect game meat from the blowfly I eventually devised a fully enclosed net. It was 6ft long with a 4ft drop, a 2ft-wide cloth at the top sewn onto mosquito netting, later replaced with stronger nylon netting, and a long zip at one end. Eyelets at the top of either end allowed a steel cord or rope to run the inside length of the net from which game was hung using butcher hooks.
Strung between two sturdy trees in the shade with a little breeze blowing, the meat inside not only cooled and cured but formed a dry thin outer layer of skin, which if accidently exposed, made it difficult for the blowfly to penetrate and lay its eggs. In cold conditions, bulky pig and goat legs remained in the net for a couple of days or longer without spoiling.
Later, when we started taking ice, thin-skinned, smaller game such as duck and rabbit were left in the net overnight to drain of blood and chill in the cold air before being packed away in ice the following morning.
In hot weather, as soon as the body temperature of the game reduces or cools a little, it’s best packed in ice soon after. However, with any food preservation, it’s important proper checking is maintained at all times to ensure the meat hasn’t gone off.
Game bags: Out in the field, away from camp or the vehicle, game bags made of cheesecloth or similar breathable cloth material with a tie cord at the top will protect dressed game strung up in the shade of a tree and allow air to flow through, pending its recovery. They are light and easily stored in a backpack. For a number of years, full-sized cheesecloth bags, 180cm x 120cm wide and larger, have been part of the gear on trips and have served me well.
It’s amazing how after only a few minutes an unprotected dressed carcass can attract blow flies and spoil the meat. Once they lay their eggs, it’s too late with all your efforts gone down the drain. Depending where the eggs are laid, they can go undetected for a few hours or even a day or two.
Similarly, smaller bags of minimum 70cm x 40cm will hold two to three gutted rabbits or a few ducks at a time, can be strung up in the shade allowing you to continue hunting freely and retrieve later. Sure, the game can be stowed in a backpack as you walk but game piled on top of each other will take longer to lose its body heat and can go off. The bags also protect game from foreign matter such as bits of grass, twigs and dust.
Cheesecloth material is relatively inexpensive and readily obtainable from most fabric stores such as Spotlight. Knocking up a few bags of various sizes on the sewing machine is not that time-consuming and well worth the effort. They will become bloody, but left in soapy warm water for a couple of hours or overnight in a bucket, most of the bloodstains will wash out ready for the next trip.
Ice: Blocks of ice prepared at home in a chest freezer three to four weeks before a trip will freeze deeper and harder and last a lot longer for a whole week or more compared to commercially produced ice blocks which are essentially sold soon after being formed. The other practice adopted in camp to better preserve ice, particularly when it’s transported in one large esky or container, is to move some of the ice to different eskies for storing food and drinks separately. In this way the main esky holding the game meat is not being continually opened and closed, allowing cold air to escape and causing the ice to melt quicker.
Fridge/freezers: Inoperable and discarded large chest freezers where the internals and seals are still in good condition are useful for storing ice and an inexpensive way of preserving game meat. A homemade, sturdy wooden or lightweight metal gapped platform is placed at the bottom of the freezer to separate the meat from the water forming from the melting ice. In this way, even a whole carcass of goat, pig or deer can be taken home for later butchering in comfort. If affordable, a motorised freezer would obviously be better.
These days there are numerous portable fridge/freezers on the market from gas operated to solar powered. It pays to compare the different brands, especially for their durability, insulating qualities and power consumption. While they can be expensive, it’s worth handing over the extra dollars for a low amperage unit that has minimal drainage on the car battery or power supply.
Meat house: There may be times when the property owner will allow you to use his meat house to hang up game for the duration of your stay. It’s important the facility is left clean and tidy as found. It also doesn’t hurt to offer the owner some game meat for his or her own consumption.
Procuring game is becoming more difficult for a whole lot of reasons. In some cases it’s more expensive due to the competition with harvested game for local and overseas consumption. This is why we should appreciate and make the most of what we hunt.