If properly handled, wild game will provide the best meal that you’ve ever had.

A buddy shot his deer this morning and I’d told him if I was in town, I’d cut it up for him. I had an article written but the photos haven’t been approved yet. So I thought, you know, this would be a good topic to write about this week. So today we’re going to talk about what to do if you shoot a deer/elk/bear/moose/antelope and can’t get your truck to it.

To begin, let’s talk about what to do if you shoot an animal 5 miles back in the mountains. Or even a mile. If you have horses, then you’ll just need to quarter it out, throw the quarters in the panniers and hit the trail.

But let’s hold on a hot second. Whether you have horses or not, you still need to skin it first. The first 5 million animals I gutted I did the old traditional way. Make a cut up the midline and gut it out. But here’s another way you might try.

Don’t even gut your animal. Make a cut down the backline. While the animal is laying on its side, peel the skin down to the belly. Remove the forequarter. Then pull the backstrap and next the hindquarter. Then flip it over and repeat on the opposite side. This way you don’t even have to gut your animal.

To bone the animal, use a Knives of Alaska professional boning knife. Once every blue moon I’ll carry a small tarp to spread out and then I can lay the cuts on the tarp to keep them clean. If you don’t have a tarp, no biggie. Just lay 1 ½-inch thick limbs against a log and lay the cuts on the branches. That keeps them out of the dirt and let’s air blow over and under them and cool off.

It’s best to put the cuts into a canvas bag when you load them into your panniers (or really your backpack, too). Canvas keeps the cuts clean but the bag breathes. If you pack out your meat in plastic bags they will hold in the heat. I’ve done it numerous times but it’s best not to.

You’ve probably heard about aging meat. That will be a whole article in and of itself. Basically, aging is controlled rotting. No one likes to hear that description but it is semi true. So why would you age your meat? Aging makes the meat more tender and gives it a distinct taste that a lot of people like.

It is best to let the meat age on the carcass. But what if you’re in the backcountry and can’t haul out the whole animal? Or, even if you can haul it out, what if it is too warm? Then you have no choice but to bone it out.

So obviously you can’t always age your animal. Now for the kinker. If at all possible, it is best to at least let it go through rigor mortis. Here’s why. No matter what, the muscle sarcomeres are going to shrink up as it goes through rigor mortis, right? But with the ligaments attached to the bone it only allows them to shrink so much. But if you bone out your game hot, it will shrink let’s say two or three times more. This makes the meat tough. So, if at all possible, don’t bone it out for 18 hours after shooting it.

But, let’s say you shoot something on top of a mountain in bear/wolf country. You can’t leave it there overnight or they’ll eat it. So sometimes (a whole lot of times) you won’t have a choice but to bone it out hot. And it’s not the end of the world. I’ve boned out hundreds of deer hot. It’s just that it will be more tender if you don’t have to.

If you’re packing out on horses then you can quarter it out leaving it attached to the bone and pack it back to camp in quarters. You can even hang those quarters in a tree and let it age in camp. You may want to hang a tarp so the sun doesn’t warm it up during the day. Of course, if you’re backpacking it out, you’ll want to bone it out so you’re not packing out bones.

Well, we are out of room but if you want to know how to bone out your game and learn some unique cooking tips from Michael Scott (which is one of the top 15 chefs in America), check out “The High Road with Keith Warren” at We did a three-part TV series on processing game.

Happy eating!

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop. He can be reached via email at

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