The great thing about hunting winters in Michigan is that you never have to worry about your deer meat spoiling. In December when the average temperature is 20 degrees, the outdoors is your freezer. As we approach summer, hunting and fishing can bring a new set of challenges as you need to keep your fish filets or wild game meat from spoiling in the hot sun.
Pack A Cooler
Using a cooler to keep meat at safe temperatures is a no-brainer in the summer. However, if you are out camping or on an extended hunting or fishing trip you still have some things to consider. If not used properly, the ice in your cooler can quickly melt under the hot sun.
Type of Cooler
Using a double wall roto-molded cooler is going to be your best bet. There are so many options available now you have a ton of different brands to choose from. The Yeti is still the gold standard in cooler technology, but you are going to pay a premium for the brand and support that goes with it. Cabela’s, RTIC, and many other brands now offer similar coolers at more wallet-friendly prices.
Keep Them Out of the Sun
Even the best coolers, though, can have their ice melt if not handled properly. The cooler should never be placed in direct sunlight. Keep it in the shade. This can be the difference between the ice lasting for 2 days and 4. If there is no shade available, drape a towel or blanket over the cooler. Anything to avoid the hot sun from just heating the plastic all day. If there is a cool shallow stream nearby you can even place the cooler in the water, though make sure it is not going to get stolen or float away in a heavy current.
Size – Air Is the Enemy
When choosing a cooler for your trip be realistic. If you are going to catch a few fish for the afternoon you probably don’t need a 100-quart cooler. Extra air inside the cooler is going to melt your ice faster. The longer the ice stays frozen, the longer the cooler will remain effective.
Pack It Properly
One of the best tips I have heard about coolers is how to properly pack them for maximum insulation and minimum extra air inside. First off, ice is great, but the smaller the cubes—the faster they will melt. I like to freeze some water bottles before my trip. When filling the cooler I will use a mix of bagged ice (stays frozen longer if you keep it in the bag) and frozen water bottles. I will then take a couple of clean trash bags and fill them with foam housing insulation. This is the nontoxic foam board type available at most hardware stores. By cutting it to the size of the cooler you can use the bagged foam to take up the extra space that would have been air. This will add extra insulation to the ice you have and stave off the melting process for longer.
Once the cooler is packed properly, leave it alone. Store it as discussed above (shade) and don’t open it until you are ready to pack it with meat or fish filets. Bring a separate cooler for your drinks and food so that you are not tempted to open your game cooler any more than is necessary. I have had a 100-quart cooler keep the ice 90% frozen for 8 days by not opening it until then.