Elk Quest 2018 provided a significant amount of meat. I’m talking 200+ pounds of 100% lean protein. This is deep-red (color almost like a tuna steak), grass-fed, pastured, organic meat. The sequence from releasing an arrow to handing my friend a butcher paper wrapped package of Elk Italian Sausage was extensive, and at times, exhausting. This is a most critical part of the Quest, for me personally and as part our 10,000-generation saga of The Hunter - here’s the story of The Meat.
So, you just killed an elk. Or, rather, you shot an arrow at an elk. You now have the responsibility to maximize the use of this animal by delivering to your plate and sharing with your friends best tasting, most nutritious and greatest quantity of meat possible. First thing first – find the elk.
Meat care starts with cooling down the meat. An elk has a body temperature of around 100 degrees. Meat does not last long at 100 degrees. Hours. The opposite extreme is a below-zero freezer. Properly trimmed and packaged meat will last 1+ year in this environment. At 40 degrees, in the shade and with adequate air flow and proper humidity, you can actually improve the quality of the meat through aging. Red meat can improve a week (or longer, for beef) in this optimal 40-degree environment. Where I found myself – in Colorado, at 10,500 ft, in early September – daytime temperatures were low 60s and night low 30s. Meat could be fine for several days, probably even a week, in this environment, if kept in the shade and hung for airflow.
That’s all great to know, but you haven’t even found the animal yet. That meat is 100 degrees, covered by a thick hide, filled with hot organs, insulated on one side by the ground and possibly heated on the other by the sun. After releasing an arrow in 2018, we tracked my elk with urgency. We were on the trail until darkness and a depressingly sparse blood-trail prevented us from proceeding, even with powerful headlamps. In the morning we were back on the blood trail early enough that we still needed headlamps. If we didn’t finish the blood trail and get to the elk before the sun did, it would all be for naught – the warmth of mid-day sun would quickly render the meat suitable only as coyote, bear and vulture food.
Mid-morning, 20 hours after the shot, we did find the elk. Another remarkable stroke of luck, in this most serendipitous of adventures – the elk had run flat out for 1 mile, walked ¼ mile and fallen over on an above-treeline slope – in the shade. The universe smiled down upon this adventure, and kept our elk cool that night, with below-freezing temperatures and the shade of a scrubby 11,000 ft conifer.
I’ve described the effort and educational experience of quartering, hanging, packing out the meat previously, so I’ll jump right to being at home in Boulder, with 2x 150 quart coolers filled with meat and bone.
We drove to my home in Boulder, I slept 2 hours and got on a plane. For a few days, the coolers sat in my kitchen, filled with ice and 350 pounds of meat and bones, occasionally drained by Tim. I flew back to Boulder and that next morning I searched Youtube, ‘How to butcher an elk’. I think we found a video with a whitetail deer. Close enough.
For the next 12 hours, Tim and I played “Butcher”. We made it up as we went along – “Looks like A+ Steak!” “Call that a flank.” “Leave this whole?” “Trim all of this?” “Put that in the grind pile.” “This is a roast? Sure, pal!” It was great fun. Did we do it perfect? Heck no. We did the best we could with no experience and minimal education. Some prime cuts were probably cut into jerky or trim. Some “grind cuts” were probably cut into and labeled as “steaks”. I was fully embodying my “spirit animal” – a baby giraffe – awkwardly stumbling along, but on my feet, learning, having a great ‘ol time and making it work perfectly well.
The same day as butchering, we used the slow cooker to try a piece of the “shank” (between the knee/elbow and the ankle). I didn’t know if the connective tissue of the shank could be rendered in the slow cooker, or if it had to all be trimmed away, so this was an experiment to hopefully learn what to do with the rest of the shank meat.
The slowcooked marrow bones and roast turned out delicious, clean, mild. You could taste the incredible nutrition of the red protein, the fat and connective tissue, the marrow.
The rest went in the freezer. It was eaten as:
I don’t know if stuffing meat into a sausage casing is actually "charcuterie". But it sounds cool to say I’ve made wild game charcuterie.
About 2 weeks ago, I took inventory of the remaining elk meat. The freezer had dwindled and now there was only one layer at the bottom the the chest. There were various elk cuts left – some labeled roasts, some ‘flank’ steak, some ‘front quarter’ steak, some ‘rear quarter’ steak, plus 2 gallon-sized bags of meat trimmings – about 20 pounds total. I decided it all had to go before I left town for Elk Quest 2019, and I decided the best way to do that was to make sausage and give it all to friends – organic, wild game, homemade sausage.
For the better part of a day, I embarked on my first solo sausage making experience, turning 20 pounds of elk and 8 pounds of pork into natural casing Italian Sausages - trim, cube, spice, mix, grind, bind, stuff, twist, package, freeze. Clean the entire kitchen with a slew of Lysol wipes.
And, with that – the final processing, packaging and giving to friends of the bountiful harvest – Elk Quest 2018 had concluded. Just in time for Elk Quest 2019. Opening day is August 31, and the bulls are screaming!
Oh yeah. There was a super cool skull too. It remains as a lasting testament.