After the Harvest

By Jim Low | October 14, 2014
From Missouri Conservationist: Nov 2014

Did you shoot a nice buck or a fat doe for the freezer last year? Maybe you bagged a limit of rabbits or squirrels or caught a big mess of crappie. Congratulations! You probably can be proud of putting delicious, healthful food on your table.

Probably? Why not certainly? If you obey hunting and fishing regulations, observe high standards for fair chase, and make good use of the resulting meat, why should you question your actions? The answer is leftovers. I don’t mean the stuff you put in the refrigerator after a meal of wild meat. I’m talking about what remains when you have butchered your game or fish. Hooves, hides, and hair; heads, fins, tails, and scales — collectively known as offal — sometimes present challenges that can be … awful.

Decomposing deer or fish carcasses don’t have to be an issue. After all, animals die in the wild every day of natural causes, and their bodies decompose naturally without causing problems. When trouble arises from wild game leftovers, it is usually because of where it ends up.

In the case of fish waste, that sometimes involves people cleaning their fish and leaving the remains at the edge of a lake or stream. This isn’t just unsanitary, it’s disgusting for those who come along later and see and smell the results of someone else’s fishing trip. Don’t be the person who leaves animal waste where it will ruin others’ outdoor experience.

Missouri’s harvest of more than 250,000 deer each year creates the potential for waste-disposal challenges. Most hunters leave waste from field dressing where they shoot their deer, but some careless hunters discard carcasses in roadside ditches or sneak offal into commercial dumpsters without permission. The worst-case scenario is when several carcasses are dumped in public places or near lakes or streams. Besides being illegal and endangering water quality, such inconsiderate behavior gives hunters a bad name.

Many hunters choose to remove meat from deer carcasses in the field, which also avoids both disposal and disease-transmission issues. If you do this, be sure to leave the carcass well away from and out of sight of roads and trails. If you wait until you get home to clean game and fish, waste disposal still can be simple. Just send it to an approved sanitary landfill along with your other garbage.

Because offal gets smelly fast during warm weather, you might want to wrap it securely in plastic bags and store it in the freezer until trash pickup day. This makes sense anyway, since rotting offal attracts flies, neighborhood dogs, and other scavengers. If this isn’t practical, seal waste inside sturdy plastic bags and add hydrated lime or sawdust to minimize odor.

Families that shoot several deer a year face bigger disposal problems. One way to minimize waste is to use as much of the animal as possible. Send the hides to a tannery and use them for rugs or wall hangings. Separate the ribs from the spine and bake them in a roasting pan with barbecue sauce.

These are a few ideas about how to deal responsibly with game and fish waste. If you have found other ways to use or dispose of offal, share them on the Conservation Department’s Facebook page at

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Managing Editor - vacant
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer/Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler