I think it’s fair to say that there is some amount of wild game in a majority of Alaskans’ freezers. Now, I won’t go so far as to say that most Alaskans have a freezer JUST for wild game, but I know several people who do (myself included). Part of living in such a beautiful and bountiful state is that we are able to go out and collect natural resources to feed ourselves, family, and friends. But obviously not everyone is inclined to spend hours and hours – in usually the rain here in Southeast and bugs in the interior – to maybe or maybe not find a deer, to maybe or maybe not get a shooting opportunity, to maybe or maybe not successfully harvest one. And that’s ok. Just because you have the opportunity doesn’t mean you have to take it.
ut for those of us that are going to make those opportunities and are blessed to harvest a big game animal, what do you do with it? I honestly think that freezers are some of the best inventions allowing us to store and preserve food without having to dry or salt it. I mean, I can do oodles of things with frozen meat, as opposed to having to commit to all of it being salted or smoked. If you haven’t tried ‘deer and beer stew’, you really should. Basically make a pot roast with a hunk-o-meat, then add a big bottle or two of Alaskan Smoked Porter to cover your meat, shake in some rosemary and thyme, and add brown sugar to taste. Add your onions, carrots, and potatoes closer to supper time so they don’t get overly done. Super yummy. Last night was moose tacos, and a few nights before that was caribou steaks sprinkled with Lawry’s served with mashed potatoes and steamed veggies. Steak with veggies always makes me feel fancy, even though it’s the fastest and easiest meal to make.
Between the field and your plate, that precious meat has to live somewhere. I personally bought a medium sized chest freezer when I bought my condo over 3 years ago. Back then, I thought that there was no way I would ever fill it up. Well fall of 2017, thank god I rock at Tetris. Because my lid closes and seals, but only just. My freezer has never been at max capacity before. And though I love it, it presents its own problems. Granted I haven’t seen all of the magazine covers for Real Simple or Organizing, but I don’t recall ever seeing a cover on chest freezer organization. They will show you how to organize your recipe cards, closet, pantry, crafting supplies, but never how to tackle the lurking animal that is your chest freezer. God bless Pinterest.
While hunting for a caribou in DC485 (Game Management Unit 13), I have to regretfully admit that I didn’t even consider how much freezer space I had. In my mind, I didn’t have too much in there, so without questioning it, I assumed it would all fit. In an epic day that lasted almost 24 hours, I got on a plane to ANC, got in a truck with a friend, drove up to Glennallen, bought some snacks at The Hub and topped off the fuel, then headed out Denali to find some bou. The hunting culture is very different in the interior, and personally being from Alaska with the spot and stalk technique being standard, it was crazy to see all the four wheelers and ATVs. My hunting partner and I stopped in an archaeological area, so no vehicles are allowed. It appeared that very few people want to pack a caribou out with just their two little legs. We saw some bou up a mountain, and decided to head up and find them. It was 7 miles round trip, but I was lucky enough to successfully harvest a mature cow caribou. One shot, she ran about 10 yards where she laid down in a clear spot, and in about 2 minutes all signs of electricity and chemistry were gone. With much respect and appreciation she was quickly butchered and packed out. We got to the truck via head lamp, and began our drive back to ANC.
I brought Delta (as I have named her, because the mountain was next to a big Delta sign on the road) back to JNU in two totes, leaving her cape in ANC to be tanned. My two totes weight 101.5 pounds, including her head that I personally cleaned and processed to European mount. While there is plenty of wall space for Delta next to Gilpin and Cecelia, the two days that I took to process Delta’s four quarters and add her to the freezer bag by bag was trying at times. First I just threw in stakes and roast as I cut them and vacuum packed them, but eventually I realized the amount of meat I had left was more than the available space. Oh. Shoot. My dear friend and Klondike teammate Joann came and got the leg bones as I cleaned them, and her husband came back to get Delta’s tongue. Joann and Kurt have the dedication and knowledge I aspire to have: to truly understand how to use every part of the animal. I hear some bone broth for soup will be coming back my way, and she sent me several recipes on how to prepare heart aside from just frying thin slices in bacon fat with onions. After I managed to squeeze everything – badly mind you – in my chest freezer, I hopped on Pinterest to find some organization ideas.
Mostly it looks like people use little totes, either with lids or without, to organize by category. But for me, my freezer of death is basically going to have three categories: salmon, deer, and caribou. That makes it way easier from the beginning as opposed to having over 10 categories of food to track. I measured out my freezer dimensions, and with my trusty measuring tape set out to Fred Meyer to find some totes. I made a little stack of baskets in the aisle, measuring other options to make sure I made the best use of space. Eventually I settled on black baskets, and they were even on sale. I decided that I would rather go with metal wire baskets after surveying my options, because in the past I have found that thin frozen plastic becomes brittle and breaks pretty easily. Also, as much as I love lids, I thought it might be really limiting to have to be able to close a lid.
With metal wire baskets, they just sit one on top of the other so if something pokes out it’s no big deal, and when one basket is emptied it just nests under another. If I didn’t want to reach into the bottom of my freezer, I could always turn it upside down to keep the top baskets at the same level.
With hesitancy, I pulled everything out of my freezer when I got home. I haven’t seen the bottom of my freezer in quite some time, so it was a little scary not gonna lie. There wasn’t as much mystery food in there as I thought, but I did find that a renter left a bag of chicken nuggets in there at some point. I ate them, but not as excitedly as if they were Dino Nuggets. Anything that was left by my renters was taken out of the box and it all went into one basket. Everything else was organized by animal, and by date. All of Delta went in three baskets on the bottom, along with the salmon from this summer. Deer and salmon from last year are now on top, along with the store bought food. We are making extra effort to eat all of the purchased food, as some Delta burger doesn’t fit in the freezer yet.
Because my mom is the best, begrudgingly she came over to write in Sharpie marker on the lid of my freezer after reassuring her several times, ‘yes mom, I really do want you to write on the top’. Her handwriting is fantastic and now that I’m older and don’t live with my parents, I want a few more reminders of my mom around my house. Plus, what good is a system if you can’t actually maintain it? I had mom write out all my food categories on the lid, so under them I can put a tick mark for how many of each I have. Fun fact, Rain-X takes Sharpie off of plastic surfaces. Not sure why, but it does. So I counted out how much of everything I had, and did some basic math to figure out how much of each category I need to eat a week to make sure that by this time next year my freezer is empty. That is taking a gamble that I will actually be successful next year in my hunting and fishing endeavors, but I figure looking at a mostly empty freezer will be encouragement to try hard. Also, from a purely utilitarian standpoint this should prevent any food spending more time in a freezer than it should, and ensure that nothing is wasted.
With deer season underway and my first freezer full, now the question becomes: should I get a second chest freezer? #AlaskaProblems
Courtney Wendel has lived in Juneau since she was a year old. She has a twin brother and an older brother, and learned to enjoy the outdoors at a young age by following the boys into mischief. Graduating from JDHS in 2006, she attended UAS to receive her Literature of the Environment, BA English degree. When not at work she spends most of her time on the diverse trail system hiking, running, or camping with her spotted pooch and adventure buddies.