Take Care of Wild Game for Best Quality

Doug Leier

By Doug Leier, NDG&F Dept.

Wild fish and game is a common, much anticipated course to many a North Dakota meal. But if you’ve ever tried a piece of freezer burned fish, or taken a bite of a sour piece of jerky you may hesitate the next time it’s offered your way.


This is why proper care of wild game, and food safety recommendations, are an important component to not only enjoying a meal, but also introducing the next generation of hunters and anglers to the tasty end products of a day in the field or on a lake.


With fall fishing still an option, pheasant and waterfowl seasons in full swing, and deer gun season just around the corner, I thought I’d share some of the variety of information on the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website at gf.nd.gov, that might help get that fish or fowl from the field to the kitchen in the best shape possible. How you season and cook it is up to you.


Things that spoil meat

  • Poor shot or arrow placement.
  • Improper field-dressing or careless butchering.
  • Dragging a dressed carcass.
  • Hanging or aging the carcass for too long.
  • High temperatures during aging.

Why prevent meat spoilage?

  • To reduce the risk of illness
  • Properly dressed and aged meat tastes better

Keep it CLEAN – Prevent bacterial contamination

  • Water, mud, soil and leaves carry bacteria.
    • Butcher the animal in the cleanest area possible.
    • Keep the carcass covered when transporting.
  • Prevent bacterial-related spoilage:
    • Wash your hands with warm water.
    • Always use clean equipment and knives.
    • Avoid contact between clothes and carcass
    • Wear disposable gloves
  • Wash equipment that cuts into intestines or abscesses before continuing to butcher.
  • Before you butcher the carcass, clean off hair, dirt and other debris

Keep it COOL – Prevent bacterial growth

  • Spoilage results from bacterial growth.
  • Spoilage and disease are affected by time and temperature.
  • Field dress and skin the animal as soon as possible – fur may protect the carcass, but can also prevent proper cooling.
  • The warmer the temperature, the faster the bacterial growth.

Keep it SAFE

  • Protect meat from intestinal contents; they contain bacteria and parasites.
  • Wash knives frequently.
    • Trim contaminated meat.
    • Cook well.
  • Label meat packages with the date to:
    • Select specific cuts for cooking.
    • Freeze for up to 12 months for best quality.
  • When in the kitchen or campsite:
    • Clean hands, cooking utensils and surfaces.
    • Separate raw meat from ready-to-eat foods.

Cook All Meat

  • Thoroughly cook game meat and fish to the recommended temperature of 165°F.
  • Never eat raw or undercooked meat.
  • CAUTION: Freezing, microwaving or smoking MAY NOT KILL all bacteria, viruses or parasites

This is just a quick overview of some key points and reminders, but no means is it meant to be comprehensive. The bottom line is, taking care in the processing means a better product on the dinner table.

Featured Photo: The proper care of wild game and following food safety recommendations in processing it are important components in preserving flavor and quality while preventing foodborne illness. NDG&F Photo. 

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