Freezing and Storing Wild Game
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Article contributed by Managing Editor K. Slye.
It was a successful hunt, several deer are headed to the freezer. If I’m lucky, there may already be other wild game and fish in the freezer. It’s important to know what is in the freezer and to be able to easily access it so the wild game and fish that I worked so hard to acquire does not go to waste.
While butchering, or if taking it to a processor, think about the cuts and types of meals wanted. Having a cut ready to go makes deciding what’s for dinner much easier. I butcher my own deer, so cuts I save for specific recipes are the deer’s front shoulder, left with the bone in for a bone-in blade roast. The ball roast from the hindquarter I like to save to make venison pastrami. The neck can be saved for a boneless neck roast. The possibilities are endless. If unsure of what type of cuts to save, check out a few cook books before butchering. I’d recommend Steven Rinella’s Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game, both Volume 1 and 2, Hank Shaw’s Buck, Buck, Moose, and Harvesting Nature’s Eat Wild Game. If having a processor do the butchering, make sure to have a conversation with them when dropping off the trophy – all wild game is a trophy. See what they recommend and ask questions if uncertain.
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In other cases, like the backstraps, I like to leave the cut of meat mostly whole. When butchering I cut the backstrap in half and freeze them in 12” to 16” sections. There are many more options available if they are left this way. I can roast this piece whole, I can stuff it with a filling, or slice steak sized pieces from it.
When prepping the meat to be stored in the freezer it is important to properly protect it to avoid freezer burn and spoilage. With roasts and backstraps I will wrap in a couple layers of plastic wrap then wrap in freezer paper. When I grind burger I use just plain quart sized plastic freezer bags, no need to buy the special wild game bags as it’s an unnecessary expense. The quart size bags hold 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of burger well. Before putting into the freezer, I will press the burger flat in the bag, pushing out all of the air. This accomplishes several things, getting the air out will prevent freezer burn, the flat frozen bags of burger are easier to store in the freezer, and they thaw out more quickly. Make sure everything in the freezer is clearly marked. I put the date that it was harvested and what the cut of meat is. There is nothing worse than pulling a mysterious package from the freezer, not knowing when it’s from, what cut or even animal it is. I avoid all of that by writing it down on the package.
For small game like squirrels and rabbits I save them whole, as that’s how I usually cook them, wrapped in plastic wrap and put into a freezer bag or vacuum sealed. Fish fillets are perfect candidates to be vacuum sealed. I like to pre-freeze fillets on a baking sheet before vacuum sealing as it helps create a better packaged and sealed fillet.
With the meat cut, wrapped, and ready for the freezer, it’s important not just throw it in the freezer to search for it later. Organizing the freezer is an important and crucial part to storing the wild game. Knowing what and where it’s at will help ensure that the previous years’ harvests are used before the latest season’s harvest. I try my best to practice the first in-first out method, using older cuts before using newer.
The first step to knowing what is in the freezer is writing it down. I have a whiteboard attached to the lid of my chest freezer. When a new piece of meat is put in the freezer, I write it on the white board, noting the date as well. If I take something from the freezer, I make sure to update the white board. But knowing what’s in the freezer is not enough, knowing where it’s at and getting it quickly is just as important. To solve this problem I use canvas grocery bags. In each canvas bag, I put either the same type of cuts, or cuts from a specific animal. If I need to get access to a cut that’s on the bottom of the freezer, it’s just a matter of taking one or two canvas bags out to get to it, and not searching, digging, and checking labels of dozens of packages. On the white board, I make sure to write what canvas bags has what cuts and from what year. In my freezer I have a few canvas bags for the various cuts of venison, a bag or two of fish that I’ve caught, a bag of small game, a bag of already cooked wild game, and a bag of various things like stock bones, hearts, and livers.
With a little bit of pre-planning freezer space can be maximized, meals can be pre-planned, meat will be better protected, and nothing will go to waste. Get out there and fill up the freezer!