Safe Handling of Wild Game

How to safely handle deer, moose, bear and other wild game meat

Hunter removing Deer from the woodsWild game can provide a delicious and healthy source of food, but hunters should always take precautions to minimize exposure to wildlife diseases. The following precautionary measures are easy, effective ways to safely handle deer and other wild game:

  • Avoid shooting or handling an animal that appears sick.
  • Wear rubber gloves and a facemask when gutting or butchering.
  • Never eat the brain, eyeballs, spinal cord, spleen, liver, or lymph nodes.
  • Bone the animal (remove the meat from the bones and spinal column).
  • Avoid cutting through bones or the spinal column.
  • If you saw off antlers or through a bone, or if you sever the spinal column with a knife, disinfect those tools before using them to butcher or remove meat.
  • Remove all fat, membranes, and connective tissue from the meat. Normal field dressing and trimming of fat from meat will remove lymph nodes.
  • Use a 50/50 solution of household chlorine bleach and water to disinfect tools and work surfaces.
  • Cook all meat thoroughly.

Bear Meat Tips: 

Act Fast: The amount of time you take to properly handle and care for bear meat is critical. Once that bear is down, the time to properly handle your trophy and the meat is immediately.

The bulk of the annual bear harvest occurs in September, a month that is very warm and more similar to summer than fall.  Some hunters are used to “hanging their deer” in November.  You cannot do that with bear or they will spoil.  Remember, a bear does not have to be whole or intact for the mandatory registration process.  Hunters may process the bear before registration and present the required parts to registration personnel (refer to the NH Hunting Digest).

Remove the Skin: If you are not able to leave the woods right away, it is imperative to immediately remove the skin, which retains heat, and gut the animal, so the meat can cool quickly.  Especially if you take a bear on a warm September day, get it chilled FAST by placing in a refrigerated and/or shaded area orby packing with ice.

About Those Parasites: When you’re gutting your bear, don’t be alarmed if you see roundworms. These parasites are confined to the intestines and do not invade the meat. Most birds and animals that a hunter will harvest contain intestinal parasites.

Clean, Dry and Chilled: Once you have begun the cooling process, left the field, and taken the precautions to ensure keeping your meat clean and dry, chill the meat for 24 hours and then have it processed right away.  Don’t let it “age” in coolers or outside, even in cool temperatures. Bear meat spoils more quickly than other game meat because of its higher fat content.

Cut the Fat: When processing bear, all the fat needs to be removed to protect the flavor -- even the marbling. This is time-consuming, but well worth the effort. Add some ground pork to your bear burgers or sausage to alleviate the lack of fat.

Cook Well Done: When cooking bear, use a meat thermometer and cook to 170° F, no pink remaining.