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Thread: Cold smoking or drying an entire big game animal?

  1. #1
    Wilderness Traveller Brooks Range's Avatar
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    Default Cold smoking or drying an entire big game animal?

    I would like to preserve the meat of an entire big game animal in such a way that it will keep for weeks until colder weather.

    This will be a wilderness trip so I want to do this with a minimum of supplies. I want to avoid any type of salt or preservatives, relying solely on smoking and/or drying.

    I've got plenty of experience hunting and caring for meat but no experience caring for meat in this particular way.

    What advice do you have?

    I'm especially interested in hearing from any of you with real-world experience with preserving large amounts of meat with primitive, salt-free methods.
    Alone in the Fortress of the Bears
    70 Days Surviving Wilderness Alaska: Foraging, Fishing, Hunting


  2. #2
    Senior Member kyratshooter's Avatar
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    I have done several whole deer in the 150 pound range, most of them as demonstrations at colonial living history sites for public education purposes. I never lost any of the meat, but I was in the company of several dozen red neck reenactors so there was not much meat left to spoil by the end of the presentations.

    First of all, if you are in Alaska will you be in either wolf or bear habitat? If so you will be violating every principle of safe conduct in bear or wolf infested zones. It might even be illegal to have this much meat available without it being inside bearproof containers. You need to check about that. You may have never seen a game warden out in your entire life but when you start this one will appear out of nowhere!

    The other consideration is what animal will you be dealing with? You will be working from the time the animal hits the ground and for the next 24-48 hours with few breaks. I hope you have help! One person can do a deer in a day, if you start in the early morning, but if you have a big mule deer, an elk or a moose down you will need all the manpower you can find.

    Also, you can not dry meat from sheep, pigs or rabbit. Their fat is not conducive to drying and they carry too many parasites. Stick with deer, elk, moose or beef. Any of the ungulates are OK. Their fat goes to tallow, not lard.

    First, bone the meat. Trim the fat. Strip the critter and cut the meat in 1/4" thick slices across the grain. You will not be drying whole shoulders or hams. You have to get it sliced up and exposed to the air.

    Build yourself some racks from branches to get the slices about 3' off the ground. You can use Y shape branches stuck in the ground with a grid of branches between them to support the meat. You want it at least 3' up since you will have a fire under the rack but you do not want much direct heat on the meat.

    Probably best to build the racks before you bone the meat so the slices can go directly onto the finished racks. You don't want to have it lying around drawing flies while you build a rack for an hour.

    Under the racks build a series of fires or one long fire. You want it low and slow since you are not cooking the meat, you are drying it. The fire helps dry the meat and most important it keeps the flies away. Use the punkiest wood you can find, or just feed the fires small stuff so they do not flare up and create excess heat.

    For the next 12-24 hours spend your time feeding the fires, and shooing the flies away from your meat.

    About half way through the drying process, perhaps at 6-8 hours, turn the slices of meat over and let then dry on the reverse side.

    When the meat is dry enough to see some fibers break when you bend the slice in half you are good to go.

    This means that for 24-48 hours you are sitting on one spot, with several kilos of fresh meat, inviting every wolf and bear in the area in for a snack.

    You will also be hindered or helped by the weather, humidity and wind. Pray for sunshine, dry air, a good breeze and a long day.

    You can also google making jerky primitively and skip the commercial equipment and dehydrator parts.

    There are several events in history where I can 100% guarantee that I know what was said at that exact moment. Leonidas when he found out the Persians were behind him, Custer when he looked up and saw Crazy Horse arrive, and a Clovis culture woman when she walked up to a mammoth kill site with a piece of sharp chert as he only tool.
    Last edited by kyratshooter; 09-11-2022 at 02:39 PM.
    If you didn't bring jerky what did I just eat?

  3. #3
    Wilderness Traveller Brooks Range's Avatar
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    Thanks for that interesting write-up kyratshooter. Great idea having the meat rack all set up and ready to go before a shot is fired. I don't have experience smoking meat so I appreciate your expertise.

    I do have a lot of experience handling large amounts of meat in Alaska in bear and wolf country, which is just about everywhere. Fish and game does not have to be stored in bear-proof containers in Alaska in any place I'm aware. I would probably be targeting caribou and I'd do it by myself. No doubt it will be huge amount of work but I'm willing to tackle it and if I do will have plenty of time for the hard work.

    Thank you sir!
    Alone in the Fortress of the Bears
    70 Days Surviving Wilderness Alaska: Foraging, Fishing, Hunting

  4. #4
    Senior Member kyratshooter's Avatar
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    If I had a 400-500 pound beast down I would make the drying rack out of whatever I could find on that location rather then try to drag a kill to the rack.
    If you didn't bring jerky what did I just eat?

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