Mike North on hunting: Meat is a treat if you act quickly

When folks find out how avid of a hunter I am, I'm often asked two questions: What do you do with the meat? And, how does it taste?

The answers are easy ... I eat it, and it tastes great.

Whenever I have the opportunity, I try to get my non-hunting friends to sample wild game. Many of them haven't had it before, which makes it even more enjoyable when they try some and find out how delicious it is.

Many people who have tried wild meat complain of a "gamey" taste ... it isn't very often that I hear that about my product.

The reason is simple -- the better you take care of your kill, the better it turns out when it's time to eat.

When it comes to preserving meat well, it's all about acting fast.

Immediately after downing an animal and filling out the tag, you should be working to take the guts out of it. On a hot day, it doesn't take long for the innards to start turning foul inside a dead animal.

After skinning it, I always seal the meat inside a light canvas game bag that allows fresh air in, but keeps out flies and other creepy crawlers.

If you can't get the meat to a butcher or locker within 24 hours, it's best to move the carcass to a cool area and hang it high to keep it away from mountain lions, coyotes and other hungry critters.

Some hunting ranches have ice houses made of huge stones with screened windows that can be shut during the day to keep the cold night air inside and prevent meat from rotting.

If you're hunting up in the mountains, you probably don't have that luxury.

This was my situation a few years back when I harvested a bear in the Plumas National Forest. I figured the next-best thing to an ice house is a shady tree, so I cut my bear in half and hung each side up on a gambrel in a pine tree.

Lucky for me, some cool weather preserved the meat perfectly and it tasted great -- bear is one brand of meat that can go rancid fast, and not caring for it appropriately can leave you eating questionable cuts for a long time to come.

Even though I take good care of my game, I still sometimes hear that it tastes "wild" or "gamey." Apparently, I've grown immune because I can't decipher that flavor.

To my hunting friends out there, work on your meat-tending skills just as much as you practice hunting -- it'll payoff at the dinner table.

To my non-hunting friends, keep trying wild meat. The more you eat, the more it grows on you.

Now that I think about it, I'm commonly asked a third question: What does bear meat taste like?

Another easy answer -- it's a cross between sea lion and bald eagle.

And for any Fish and Game officials reading this column, yes, that is a joke.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsun-star.com.