I’ve had a lot of antelope meat over the years as I’ve traveled around the country to speak at wild game dinners and sportsmen’s events. More times than not, the meat wasn’t fit to eat. It’s been bad enough that I’ve developed some pretty good skills at discreetly spitting the nastiest of foods back out in a napkin and hiding it elsewhere without getting busted by the cook. So, for a lot of years I lived under the notion that antelope meat was the nastiest meat a man could ever put in his mouth.
And then I moved out to Montana.
I swore the first of these prairie goats I killed would be given away to feed the hungry. And it wouldn’t be my hungry family either. But after talking with a friend about his experiences with antelope meat, and comparing them to mine, we came to the conclusion that I had eaten a bunch of ill-prepared antelope meat in the past. My friend assured me that antelope meat was some of the best meat on the planet. I agreed to give it another chance and set out to kill my first antelope when the season opened up in late summer.
On the third and final day of that first antelope camp in central Montana, I killed a young buck that wandered a little too close to my setup at the waterhole. He was just a dink, but he was my first. I was thrilled to punch my first antelope tag on my first attempt at hunting them.
Weeks later, after grilling up a bunch of antelope steaks at the house, my kids made the call, “This is the best meat we’ve ever had!” They’ve had deer, elk, and everything in between. And they all agreed that antelope steaks were as good as it gets.
So what’s the difference?
Why would I experience such drastic differences in the taste of antelope meat? In my opinion it all comes down to preparation. And I’m not simply talking about table prep. The game changer in antelope meat starts long before the cooking process.
It’s true. Antelope can be the best – or worst – meat you’ll ever put in your mouth. But it typically boils down to how you handle that meat immediately following the kill.
Bowhunting antelope in the early season typically means bearing some excruciating heat. And antelope seems to spoil as quick as any critter I’ve ever encountered. The name of the game is to get that meat removed from the hide and bone as quick as possible. After killing my first antelope, I shot a few photos and then immediately began to debone the meat. I had the meat off and in the cooler on ice in less than an hour. And I think that was the biggest factor in meat that my family raved over.
No matter what big game animal you pursue, heat, moisture, and dirt are the deal breakers that will ruin your meat fast. Eliminate these three elements of spoilage and you’ll have it whipped. Disregard these and you’ll have meat that your dog won’t eat.
Bottom line – be prepared. There’s honestly no excuse for letting meat spoil. It all comes down to preparedness. Here’s how to do it…
- Have the tools for butchering with you. Keep your knives and butcher tools in your pack so you can immediately begin the process when your tag is punched.
- Beware of the hair. Some people swear that antelope hair is the cause for stinky meat. Is this true? I really don’t know. Either way, I personally avoid all hair in my meat, regardless of the animal. Set up for butchering in a way that makes the task easier. Pay attention to the wind. Let the wind blow hair away from you, not into your meat. Use plastic sheeting or a tarp to keep from rolling and wrestling your animal around in the dirt.
- Go Gutless. Don’t bother with gutting your antelope. Its honestly not necessary. The Gutless method, or Quick Quarter method, allows you to quarter your animal without the risk of spilling the guts and stomach content into your precious meat (see video below).
- Have a quality cooler like the Yeti in your truck and pre-cooled with blocks of ice. Don’t wait until you have punched your tag to go run down a cooler and ice. Be optimistic. Have that cooler full of ice and ready for meat. Today’s coolers will keep things cold much longer than what we used in the past.
Check out this video on how to quarter your antelope in the field with the quick quarter (gutless) method.
Be prepared for antelope success. Have your knives and cooler on standby when you punch your tag this season and you’ll likely discover antelope meat to be the best you’ll ever put in your mouth.