This is post 6 of 6 in a series sharing random stories and thoughts from my years in the woods. They won’t tie directly together but I’m hopeful that they will share a common feeling to give an overall picture of some of the rarely discussed elements around hunting that may give a bigger picture of something I’ve never lived without.
When we are successful in our hunt, we have to prepare the meat for the butcher. The animal is ‘cleaned’ in the field before returning to camp (generally still in-tact and will its fur on) and it’ hung in our ‘hanging shed.’ The ‘Shed’ is a massive structure – it’s roof begins 12 or 14 feet off the ground and a steel beam up the center of it has several block-and-tackles (pulleys) attached which make for easy work for raising an animal which can weigh 600-800 pounds at this point. The shed has an earthen floor and no walls – this allows for air to circulate and for the ageing process to begin.
The cleaning process (often called ‘field dressing’) results in a pile of innards on the ground. Most of those remains are consumed by wolves in the first 24-36 hours of them being left.
We often have discussions on the merits of which way to hang it – head up or down? There have been plenty of conclusions drawn and, at the end of the day, I’m not sure we’ll ever fully set in to full agreement on which way to hang it.
The fur is often removed at this point (we used to wait until the end of the week but experience has shown this helps it dry and that it’s far easier to take it off as close to the harvest as possible). The animal may remain whole at this point or is cut into quarters and hung to dry further.
Ideally we’d like to hang the moose as long as possible (this results in better-flavor and texture) and I wish we could hang it well beyond the 4 or 5 days it often gets.
So far, I’m hoping the process sounds pretty straightforward. And it is – until the weather plays its havoc. If the weather gets too warm, meat can begin to rot – not an acceptable outcome for any of us. So the moment an animal is harvested, the weather forecast is monitored like a hawk by the guys in camp in the event we have to make a quick move and wrap the animals in plastic and bring them to a butcher (we always do so with the meat well covered so that those who aren’t interested don’t have to face it).
The dynamic goes back and forth all week until we determine there is no other option and bring the animal to a specialty butcher who specializes in wild meat during the hunt (they are not allowed to process beef and moose at the same time and have to finish moose season before returning to cow.