You shot a deer. Here’s how long you need to wait for the tenderest meat.
If you must butcher your deer today, don’t freeze the meat. Rigor mortis, which sets in soon after death and lasts 12 to 24 hours, contracts and stiffens muscle tissue, making meat less tender. Freezing before this is complete results in thaw rigor, or more colloquially, “shoe leather.”
Tip: If temps are high, quarter or bone out your deer and age the meat in a refrigerator.
If you shot a yearling buck or doe, process it now. These deer are tender by nature and don’t need as much hang time. Shorten the hang time if temps are on the high side (40s), as this makes both collagen breakdown and bacterial growth happen faster.
Tip: You can process the cuts you plan to make into sausage or burger shortly after rigor mortis—even with older deer—as grinding effectively tenderizes the meat.
This is the hang time many hunters prefer under ideal conditions—34 to 37 degrees. It’s just about right for middle-aged deer (2½ to 3½ years old) and adequate for many older deer.
Tip: If temperatures temporarily spike, put a bag of ice in the chest cavity and wrap the carcass in a blanket or old sleeping bag.
The older your deer, the more connective tissue in its muscles and the more it will benefit from extra days on the meat pole. If conditions are consistently good and you can keep a close eye on the meat, two weeks is not too long to hang an old buck.
Tip: Ambient temps matter, but what counts most is the internal temperature of the meat. Use a digital meat thermometer regularly when you’re using longer hang times.
The rate at which meat is tenderized as a result of aging falls off sharply after 14 days, so wrap it up.
Tip: Like high temperatures, high humidity and moisture promotes bacterial growth. If you do not have a dry place to store the venison, don’t leave it hanging on the pole this long.