I am a big proponent of skinning and butchering game meat as soon as possible. Part of this has to do with the weather this far South in Tennessee where cold fronts usually involve clear, sunny skies, meaning that cold mornings tend to turn into mild days. Animals also tend to be easier to skin while still warm. Additionally, skinning, quartering and even deboning in the field is an important skill for any Eastern hunter who has aspirations to hunt out West. You will get no better primer on learning how to breakdown an Elk, Mule Deer, Black Tail etc in the backcountry than “practicing” on Whitetails, even if you are hunting in an area where field recovery is straightforward. Practically speaking, I look at it like this: I have to skin and quarter a deer anyway, might as well do that in the field. If the weather is cool, I get the work done and keep hunting (Many hunters consider their day afield to be over the second they pull the trigger). Disposal of scraps is immediate and there is no needless deer dragging (I still do not fully understand why dragging deer is consider such a ritual for Eastern hunters -makes no sense).
When I skin and quarter deer in the field, I immediately get all quarters, trimmings, and any offal into game bags. In the past, I have used Alaska Game Bags. These are stretchy, cotton blend bags that do a sufficient job at preventing flies from planting larva on the meat. As I was prepping to go out West, I purchased a set of Tag Bags. These are a tougher, synthetic material that are not as porous as the Alaska bags. Blow flies out West are larger and more aggressive and I wanted to be sure that any potential Elk meat was not tainted with fly larva. The Tag bags do not stretch like the Alaska game bags so there is no fitting anything bigger in the bag than the actual size of the bag. This Fall, I have been using a combination of both brands of bags. I use the stretchy Alaska bags for quarters and the smaller, Tag bags for backstraps, neck meat, flank trimmings and offal.
Once the meat has cooled, I often place the meat on ice for transportation or, if I am out hunting for a few days, I keep the meat on ice until I get home. Based on observations of other hunters, especially on Instragram these days, I see a lot of critical mistakes. By “critical”, I am not implying that meat is ruined, just that meat is treated less than optimally. Here is the deal: A moist enviroment is a ripe environment for bacteria growth (I took a online meat science class from Univ of Florida this summer and we looked at bacterial growth on meat in relation to moisture quite a bit). Placing your venison directly on ice is not a good idea. (it is better than allowing the meat to spoil, however). Allowing the meat to get submerged in water is even worse. Now, thousands of hunters do both each day and very few, if any of them get sick. That’s fine, but, that doesn’t mean that meat is optimal. Imagine your surprise if you walked into a steak house, ordered the tenderloin and observed the cook pulling a slimey, dripping-wet piece of beef out of ice water. Treat your venison and other game meats like you are going to serve it in a restaurant (i.e. don’t dunk it in water).
So, to avoid exposing the meat to moisture, I simply place the meat in plastic bags while in a cooler. I use the large, leaf bags. Trash bags are fine, but be sure that you do not use scented bags (many trash bags these days are scented) as that will ruin the meat.
Aging your meat? That process is really not happening to any noticeable extent in ice or on ice in a cooler. You can read more about aging here. In all reality, if you do not have some kind of aging setup, or don’t live in a Northern climate where deer can be hung outside, you are better off processing the meat as soon as possible rather than attempting some kind of aging process in ice. There are too many variables when it comes to meat aging for a simple cooler for of ice to be effective. I realize that this challenges some long held practices with regards to hunting and meat care, but again, consider for a moment how you would react to a steakhouse treating cuts of beef in the same or similar manner to how many hunters treat their venison.