- Associated Press - Friday, August 15, 2014

RENO, Nev. (AP) - It took more than a decade of hunting in Nevada before Andrea Hutchinson landed her dream tag. And a few months later she killed her dream elk.

For a lot hunters the memory of the experience, photographs of the kill and hundreds of pounds of meat to take home would be the end of the story.

But Hutchinson, a 37-year-old from Sparks, isn’t like a lot of hunters. While helping guides from Timberline Outfitters clean and field dress the kill, she realized how much she had grown to rely on other people when it came to handling the prey.

“That’s why I said ‘I have to take ownership’,” she said.

Hutchinson’s journey led her to the processing floor at Wolf Pack Meats in Reno, where she and several other students recently skinned and cleaned carcasses of freshly killed sheep. It was part of a new hunter education class offered by the Nevada Department of Wildlife, University of Nevada Extension and College of Agriculture’s Wolf Pack Meats.

The idea is to increase the odds hunters will get as much usable game meat as possible by giving them hands-on experience with a knife and a carcass before they go into the field.

“The best thing about the class was the hands-on, we all got our own sheep,” said Hutchinson, who said skinning the kill was a skill she has previously relied on men to do. “I’m from the city, so I didn’t grow up with a grandfather or father teaching me this.”

The class includes about two hours of classroom instruction on subjects like proper equipment, techniques for cutting, skinning and quartering and keeping the carcass clean and cool, transporting the carcass and state regulations that prohibit “wanton waste of game.”

Then it moves to the processing floor so students can try their techniques with experts on hand to answer questions. The idea to include the hands-on part came from an existing University of Nevada Extension course on butchering livestock.

“We just adapted the same class … tailored to wild game,” said John McKay, outdoor education coordinator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

The sheep, which are killed moments before being handed over to the students, are meant to approximate a game animal like a deer or antelope. The meat is processed in accordance with USDA standards and sold with other meat from Wolf Pack.

The class, which costs $110, is proving popular. While Nevada has a robust hunting culture, it’s also a state that’s home to many newcomers who are interested in hunting but don’t know anyone who can help them learn how.

“We’re kind of trying to address what used to be natural, social support,” he said.

The state’s hunter education program, which McKay said has grown by several hundred students annually in recent years, also has appeal to people who are interested in natural, local and sustainable food sources.

“What is more natural and sustainable than wild game meat,” McKay said.

During a recent demonstration, Mike Holcomb of Wolf Pack Meats showed how to skin an animal with a knife and also demonstrated different techniques for removing internal organs. Some organs can be removed by hand without a knife, which cuts down on the risk of a nick or cut to the intestines or bladder, something that could do severe damage to the meat.

Holcomb also emphasized that, unlike onthe processing floor, hunters are going to be dealing with heat and dirt which can contribute to spoiled meat.

“Dust and hair don’t just wash off, they stick to the meat,” Holcomb said. “You are going to have to cut it off.”

For Hutchinson, who describes her hunting style as perfectionist, the greatest value in the class was the chance to work directly with experts in a non-judgmental environment.

Students, some of them with little experience, are free to ask questions without fear of making a social faux pas, and the answers come with explanations based on science.

“All my friends grew up doing this. They learned it without realizing they were learning it,” Hutchinson said. “Classes like this are very liberating. They give you a confidence and a sense of independence.”


Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, https://www.rgj.com

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