Hunters are used to battling the elements when in the field, but this archery season has presented an uncommon foe: heat.
With daily temperatures reaching into the upper 70s on some days, the weather during the archery season has been more like summer than fall. While the mild temperatures make for a pleasant day in the woods, it presents a challenge for those hunters to get their harvest to the processor before the heat causes the meat to spoil.
Local deer processors said hunters have been pretty cognizant of what they need to do to take care of their harvest in warm weather.
“The heat is an issue, but they’ve been getting their deer here promptly and packing the body cavity with ice in the meantime,” said Rollie Lowery, owner of the Country Butcher shop in Drums. “But when you have temperatures hitting 70 or 80 degrees during hunting season, it can be a challenging situation.”
Kevin Naugle, owner of Naugle’s Custom Butchering in Hunlock Creek, said he’s been staying open later in the evening so hunters can bring in their deer even if they harvest one later in the day. His advice to those that call asking what they need to do to preserve the meat?
“Field dress it properly, which includes removing the anus, wash out the inside and pack with two bags of ice,” Naugle said. “The biggest mistake is they don’t take out the butt when field dressing, and that’s the first area that goes bad.”
Another common mistake, according to Naugle, is some hunters hang their deer upside down. He said it’s best to hang the animal by the head to allow the chest cavity to drain.
In fact, it’s best to hang any harvested animal by the head and not the other way around.
Naugle recounted an incident where a customer shot a buffalo at a game preserve. After the hunt the animal was hung upside down, the brisket wasn’t split and the chest cavity was washed out. Without any way to drain, the water laid in the chest cavity overnight.
“It was cold that night and the buffalo was frozen when he brought it in. But when I skinned it out the meat was literally turning green, going bad right in front of us,” Naugle said. “That whole animal was thrown away.”
Mild temperatures could present even more of a challenge for those hunters who harvest a bear during the upcoming archery bear season, which begins on Oct. 30.
Time could be an issue, and not just because of the heat. After a bruin is harvested, the animal must be checked by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, either at a region office or in the field. Kevin Wenner, a biologist with the PGC, advised hunters to call the region office (570-675-1143) immediately after harvesting a bear so it can be checked as soon as possible and then taken to a processor.
“Field dress it right away, put ice in the chest cavity and load the bear in the truck on it’s back so that chest cavity remains open,” Wenner said. “If you place the bear on it’s stomach, that chest cavity is shut and that keeps all the body heat in.”
Lowery said not keeping the chest cavity open is the biggest problem with bears. He recommended spreading the chest cavity open with a stick to allow the body heat to escape.
He also stressed the importance of not loading the bear on it’s stomach.
“A bear will spoil quicker than a deer. Especially the bigger ones,” Lowery said. “Add in the time it takes to get it checked, and it can be a huge challenge. I’ve had to throw out numerous bears over the years.”
One challenge with preserving a bear, according to Naugle, is the layers of flesh, fat and hide traps the blood. The layer of fat also continues to insulate the body even after the animal is field dressed, he said.
“You have to be extra cautious with a bear and get it to a processor even quicker,” Naugle said.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky