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When hunting small game in a hot climate, is it advisable to field dress the game where it falls, or wait until the carcass can be refrigerated? Searching has turned up plenty of conflicting answers, but few offer any explanation or justification. The question is complicated by the fact that small-game hunting is often considered a cold-weather activity in most parts of the US, and most advice found on the Internet is probably based on that assumption. (For example, there's an axiom that you should only hunt rabbits in months that contain the letter 'r', and/or only after the first hard frost.)

I'm weighing the importance of quickly determining whether the animal I've just killed harbors diseases such as tularemia, vs. the preservative value of keeping the skin intact, at least until I get back to my vehicle where I can put the carcass on ice. I've also read that carcasses are traditionally hung whole to bring out the best flavor, but I don't know how much importance to attach to that considering that it's also traditional for people to die of preventable diseases.

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+50

Hanging game birds is very common in the UK. All Pheasant shot in the UK are normally hung (whole and unplucked for several days). Pheasant are shot in the autumn here, the temperatures normally being <10C.

The idea of hanging is to improve flavour. Game birds can be pretty tastless if not hung or aged correctly.

I wasn't sure about hotter climates so I did a bit of research and came across this site.

It states (quoting good sources):

Pheasants hung for 9 days at 50°F have been found by overseas taste panels to be more acceptable than those hung for 4 days at 59°F or for 18 days at 41°F. The taste panels thought that the birds stored at 59°F were tougher than those held for longer periods at lower temperatures. Pheasants hung at 50°F became more ‘gamy’ in flavour and more tender with length of hanging.

50F is about 10C. It does though also say:

Furthermore, an English study from 1973 found that clostridia and e. coli bacteria form very rapidly once you get to about 60°F, but very slowly — and not at all in the case of clostridia — at 50°F.

It ends with the advice:

  • Keep your birds as cool and as separate as possible in the field. Use a game strap, not the game bag in your vest.
  • Separate your birds in the truck or put them in a cooler — do not get them wet!
  • Hanging your birds by the neck or feet does not matter, as several studies has shown.
  • Hang the birds between 50 to 55°F for at least three days, up to a week with an old rooster. Old roosters will have horny beaks, blunt
    spurs and feet that look like they have been walked on for quite some time. They will also have a stiff, heavy keelbone. Hen pheasants only need 3 days.
  • Do not hang any game birds that have been gut-shot or are generally torn up. Butcher these immediately and use them for a pot pie.
  • Dry-pluck any bird that has hung for more than 3 days. Wash and dry your birds after you pluck and draw them. Only then should you freeze them.

This leads me to say that your correct that in a hot climate you may suffer potential disease when hanging birds or keeping them whole for long periods of time. I would suggest that if the temperature is 55F(12C) or above you should gut, pluck and get the carcass into cold storage ASAP, though this will limit the flavour when compared to a hung bird.

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I've done both. I've never had a problem with squirrel spoiling (disease) in hot climates. However it's going to be safest to empty the guts in the field, as soon as you reasonably can. The goal of course is to get the temperature down as quickly as possible.

The method I prefer is to open them neck to stern, pull the soft organs out, and put a spacer between the ribs to keep the cavity open to cool and dry.

As far as hanging and dry aging goes, I've never known anyone to do that with small game. When you hang meat you typically have to cut some off. With something like a squirrel or rabbit, I don't see that leaving you with much.

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    Where I live, the temperature of the meat might go up after death. – Kevin Krumwiede Oct 1 '14 at 19:27
  • Fair enough! Where I live, it gets over 98 degrees, but rarely during hunting season. From what I have read, the advice is the same. I learned the spreader trick from reading how people do it when they have to pack the meat out on mules in the west US. Heat shouldn't spoil it that quick as long as you get it open and dry, with minimal contamination. – Russell Steen Oct 1 '14 at 19:32

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