Preserving small game

Keep your small game harvest at peak quality by preserving it safely.

Small game season in Michigan begins in the fall. The exact dates for hunting various species of small game can be found on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website. Depending on the species you are hunting there are many different ways to cook your harvest. Always keep food safety in mind after you harvest your game.

Typically, small game is preserved by freezing. It is important to select packaging materials for freezing that are moisture and vapor resistant, durable and leak proof, materials that do not become brittle and crack at low temperatures, are resistant to oil, grease or water, protect foods from absorption of off-flavors or odors, are easy to seal and mark.

Packaging materials include freezer bags, and moisture-vapor resistant wrapping such as plaster freezer bags, freezer paper and heavy weight aluminum foil. Always press the bag and its content to remove as much air as possible before closing.

Vacuum packaging is another method used for freezing small game. Vacuum packaging removes most of the air from the package which can help prevent oxidation leading to off-flavors and can also save space in the freezer. To avoid the risk of botulism from vacuum packaged foods, keeps food frozen until ready to use, never thaw on the counter and slit the package open before thawing. Thawing should always be done in the refrigerator.

Small game should always be skinned, dressed and chilled as soon as possible after shooting. Rabbit and squirrel should be refrigerated for a period of 24 to 36 hours until the meat is no longer rigid. Then the meat can be preserved.

Game birds should be dressed and gutted as quickly as possible after shooting. Remove excess fat on wild ducks and geese since it becomes rancid quickly. Do not stuff game birds before freezing. During freezing and thawing, bacteria that can cause foodborne illness can easily grow in the stuffing. If you plan to stuff the bird, stuff it right before cooking.

Game birds, rabbit and squirrel can also be canned. Because meat and game are low acid foods, they must be pressure canned. Directions for canning game bird and small game can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website or the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Guide to Home Canning.

For more information about home canning, Michigan State University Extension also has an online home food preservation course. The course includes a variety of preservation methods and skills from drying foods using a dehydrator, to freezing and blanching which requires little time or equipment, to advanced level pressure canning. Each of the seven segments discusses the equipment and tools needed to safely process foods. This course costs $10. There are no additional materials needed to complete course. Participants will have one year to complete the seven segment course. Each segment is estimated to take one hour. Find out more at the course website.

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