BEAR MEAT AND BOOT GREASE
A whale of a tale unfolded this past week. The short version being that our hard work has paid of, and Brandon arrowed his first black bear on Thursday evening. It was an approximately 375 pound male. ￼
This big ol’ guy started to come in around the previous weekend, scaring off all other younger bears. He must have really liked all of the popcorn I was making him. He is as tall at the shoulder as our 50 gallon steel drum. This was three nights before the shot.
The extended version of the story includes a midnight blood tracking through the woods, a very much still alive but fatally lung wounded bear, and a gigantic front end loader, which meant that he didn’t get the bear home until 3AM, and had we no choice but to skin it, remove the fat, and quarter it through the night. Brandon and I worked until 530AM, at which point the skin (with paws and head attached, yet to be split, scraped, and salted) went into the freezer, the quartered meat went into the hastily emptied fridge, and a third of the fat went into my four largest pots on our stove to simmer and render away (the rest waited patiently in the fridge). Brandon went to bed for two short hours and then woke to catch a flight up to Kashechewan. Luckily I had two nights off from nightshift (did I mention I was up all night, and didn’t hit the hay til noon the day he left, for a brief nap, and then to continue rendering and processing meat? Yup, I love him…). His work trip left us with no choice but for him to track the bear, late into the night, as opposed to letting rest and die, looking for it in the morning with the dog. It ended up being a very good choice, as even though it was the second last night in August, the next day was the hottest it had been in a few weeks at 31 C.
We had no option but to get greasy and bloody and cut flesh, bone, and fat until the crack of dawn. We worked outside on our front stoop, as there was no way we were going to be able to lift the beast after we got it out of the truck onto a tarp on the ground. One must never take for granted the luxury of a hose, hot water, and soap. ￼
Finally. We did not take many pictures that night, and only have this cell phone picture of the bear after it died.
There was at least six inches of fat covering the majority of his body. For us it was a terrible blueberry season, but he managed to forage enough to grow an incredible layer of winter sustenance for himself. What impressed me even more was the size of the muscles on his forearms, which were as large as human thighs even with all of the furred skin and fat removed. ￼
Bubbling bear fat. There is hardly a better use for cast iron pots. ￼
The beautiful quartered up meat.
Our favourite way to handle the quartered carcasses, so far, of large game animals, includes several simple steps, dependant on a couple of factors. We used organic apple cider vinegar (with the mother, yo) to wipe down the meat. This really helped with cutting the greasyness off the surface of the meat, and wiping off the long black hairs stuck to it - we were working on a tarp, at 3AM, and it was far from ideal. But the vinegar did the trick for us. It is a nice sweet and mild tasting vingear, and worth the four bucks it cost to clean up the meat. I do not believe in “washing” the meat in water (except for bird and fish handling, and that doesn’t mean we don’t wash everything up good and sanitize. Safe handling is important, and rather simple.
About three years ago I learned to always keep several yards of cheese cloth in the pantry, and game bags tucked into spots like the doors of the truck. Both are very handy, and have many uses. It is essential for nights like this night. You cannot always control everything, especially not when and where bears die.
The vinegar wiped meat (wiped using some of the cloth), was placed in the tied-at-one-end cloth bag. I’d think it is a bit like putting a bone-in steak into a stocking, but I haven’t done that. Into the fridge it went, hanging was out of the question. By the end of the second day, the meat was processed and vacuum sealed in the freezer.
We have very good friends, and couldn’t have done it without them. Not many people are there for your tracking and hauling near 400 pound beasts through dense boreal bush.
I had no idea if I would like bear meat. I have since decided: it is fucking delicious.
As of today, I have finished rendering about a dozen big pot batches of bear fat. Some of it wet rendered, I had several different results in the finished lard. The meat has all been defatted (there really isn’t much fat marlbing the muscles, just surrounding them), deboned, vacuum sealed, labeled and frozen, apart from one bone in shoulder.
There are many options for eating this king of the forest over the next year, the first was buttery seared slices of back straps, and the second is currently slow bbqing his right shoulder over hickory and apple wood.
This is a great booklet, by the way: http://www.env.gov.yk.ca/publications-maps/documents/bear_bacon_boot_grease09.pdf
Definitely looking forward to turning some of this bear lard into a boot grease and other such essentials.