What do I do next?

Don Albright has seen it before, and he's sure he'll see it again.

That little gleam in someone's eyes when they picture themselves in the woods, grandpa's rifle in hand, their first black-tailed buck deer on the ground. That's when that crippling, sometimes paralyzing question comes up.

What in the world do I do now?

"I think that question comes up a lot before they even get to the field," says Albright, a hunter-education instructor in Medford. "People don't get involved in hunting because they don't know what to do after the kill. They don't know what to do with it. They're intimidated by it, so they don't even go out."

Novice and seasoned hunters alike will have a chance next month in Central Point to put those now-what doubts to rest with the help of a food-preserving expert who knows his way around a carcass.

Co-sponsored by the Oregon State University Extension Service's Master Food Preserver Program and the Rogue Valley Chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association, this latest incantation of the Hunt to Home program will show participants the safe and sanitary way to ensure that the buck, bull or bear they shoot this fall will end up being the best table fare possible.

A workshop from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12, will demonstrate how to eviscerate, skin and cool a big-game animal and teach how to inspect a carcass to ensure it is not diseased. 

A follow-up class from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19, will show participants how to butcher, wrap for the freezer, and pressure-can meat, as well as make your own jerky. The class could work well for seasoned hunters who may work like artists with a skinning knife but end up with jerky that tastes awful.

The courses cost $20 for one or $35 for both. Class sizes are limited. Registration ends Aug. 10 and Aug. 16 for the respective classes. Call 541-776-7371 to register and take the first step toward shaking that self-doubt. 

"That's the number one concern — what do we do after the kill," Albright says. "So this is a great opportunity for folks who didn't grow up in a hunting family to see how it's done, to see it other than on YouTube."

The course is taught by certified Master Food Preserver Tim Owings and is co-sponsored by the OHA chapter, which will supply a field-dressing table for the class, along with two goat carcasses for the demonstrations.

As a Master Food Preserver, Owings has taken 48 hours of Extension Service classes on all the various steps for safely preserving foods.

During last year's inaugural course, Owings taught a one-day class focused on butchering animals, and he brought an already-eviscerated goat to the class.

But class participants said they wanted to see the entire process, he says.

"This year I'm really going to show them what they need to see," Owings says. "It's scary for a lot of people. It's intimidating."

With game animals, the key to preserving meat and flavor is to get the carcass eviscerated and caped as quickly as possible, and that means working in the field instead of shlepping the carcass home to work on in a hot garage, Owings says.

"I've heard horror stories of guys' uncles who shot an elk and called the next day to come over to gut it," Owings says. "By the next day, it's bad."

Owings carries jugs of ice to put inside a carcass to cool the meat as he's headed to the processor. Secondary cooling sources include water, with the cleaner and colder the better.

Cutting corners or wasting time usually turns into wasted meat or cuts that are more apt for pounding nails than eating, Owings says.

That quite literally will leave some first-timers with a sour taste on hunting.

"I believe there are a lot of first-time hunters who are successful and don't hunt again because they weren't impressed with the meat because it wasn't handled properly," Owings says. 

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtfribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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