You got your deer. Way to go! Your timing is good, too, because at this point in the season, outdoor temperatures are just about right in many places for aging a buck on the meat pole. But how long should your leave it there?

Well, let’s keep this simple. Here is a day-to-day guide to how long you should age your deer—whatever its sex or size—to get the tenderest meat.

Day 1

If you must butcher your deer today, don’t freeze the meat right away. 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, better known as, “shoe leather.”

Tip: Use the Fridge

If temps are high, quarter or bone out your deer and age the meat in a refrigerator.

Days 2–4

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 (up into the 40s), as this makes both collagen breakdown and bacterial growth happen faster.

Tip: Get the Grind

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.

Days 5–8

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: Ice It Down

If temperatures temporarily spike into the high 40s or low 50s, put a bag of ice in the chest cavity and wrap the carcass in a blanket or old sleeping bag. If it going to get any warmer than that, break the deer down and get the meat in the fridge.

Days 9–13

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: Take It’s Temp

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. You want it to stay below 40 degrees.

Day 14

The rate at which meat is tenderized as a result of aging falls off sharply after 14 days, so wrap it up.

Tip: Keep It Dry

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.