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It's not just about what we put in our bodies - but also how it tastes. We all know that when you shoot a deer, elk, or other big game animals it's important to properly hang and age the meat before you proceed with the butchering process. The reason for this is to allow for the deer meat to have enough time to properly cool and age; which helps keep the meat from becoming tough.
We get this question from deer hunters every year, and it's a fair one. The quick answer to this question is - It Depends!
There is no set answer to this question because it depends on factors such as the size of your deer, where you hunt, or have harvested the deer.
There is a science to aging meat, and five days seems like an ideal amount of time. It is important to let your deer meat age for the proper amount of time. On average, as mentioned above - five days will do most hunters just fine.
This is a suggested amount of time to allow for the cooling and aging process to happen properly. This much time allows the deer meat to move past the rigor mortis stage, to where the collagen will begin to break down in the deer meat. Allowing your deer meat to hang for that length of time, you'll get meat that is both tender and flavorful.
The hanging of your newly harvested and field-dressed deer is more than just for showing other hunters that you had a successful hunt. The actual purpose for this is to cool and age the deer meat, which increases both its tenderness as well as the flavor of the deer meat!
When you kill a deer, it goes through many stages. The first stage is when the animal dies and starts to become stiff. This stage is called, rigor mortis. Rigor Mortis can last from 12-24 hours depending on how big of a deer you killed. During the rigor mortis, the process of the muscles and other tissues start to stiffen. Beginning the butchering process of your deer in the first 12 to 24 hours is just not the time to get the job done. You really need to wait for the rigor mortis period to take place so that the natural enzymes will begin to slowly break down the collagen in the long muscles of the deer meat. Hunters that butcher up their deer meat during this critical rigor mortis stage are the hunters that end up having deer meat that is the equivalent to shoe leather.
Interesting Meat Fact: Science Direct has this to say about Collagen - Collagen is an abundant connective tissue protein and is a contributing factor to variation in meat tenderness and texture.
So, what this meat fact tells us is that when the deer matures, their muscles become stiff and lose flexibility, which leads to a chewier piece of meat. That’s why young animals are more tender, and older ones are tougher.
This is why hanging time of your deer meat is so critical. When you choose to extend the amount of time you hang your deer meat – especially, if it's an older animal will give those meat tenderizing enzymes more time to do their magic and turn some of that tough old deer meat back into something more tender and tastier to your palate.
When it comes to hanging a deer, temperature plays a big role. The ideal temperature range for hanging freshly killed deer is between 34 and 37 degrees.
At these temperatures, it's just cold enough to chill the meat, yet warm enough to help aid in the growth of needed bacteria to help in the tenderization of the meat. One of the myths is that you want to process and freeze the deer meat right away. But this is just simply not a good idea. If you hang your deer meat out to freeze. Let’s, say in temperatures colder than 34 degrees. The freezing process of the meat will stop the needed bacteria growth during the crucial rigor mortis stage. Thus, preventing the process of the natural enzymes from tenderizing the meat by breaking down the deer meats connective tissue. In return wrecking the overall tenderness of your deer meat in the end.
When it comes to deer hunting season, where you might live also plays a huge factor in the hanging process of your deer meat. Temperatures can vary greatly from state to state, and sometimes many hunters may experience icy and snowy conditions throughout much of their deer hunting season. Which makes it hard to properly hang their deer outside to age due to the possibility of freezing temperatures.
For best results, hunters can opt to hang their deer in a barn, garage, or other similar structure to help shield the deer carcass from the freezing temperatures. And might just keep the deer meat warm enough to keep the aging process of the deer meat on track.
No matter where you live or have harvested your deer. When the temperature moves up to 40 degrees or so, things change a bit. The warm temperature speeds up the process. Making it so that the collagen breaks down faster and shorter hang times for your deer meat could result.
However, on the other hand. If the meat temperature gets too hot, you’ll run the risk of meat spoilage - if you allow your deer to hang too long. The best way to avoid spoilage is by ensuring that you carefully watch the temperature of your deer meat to ensure that it stays below 44 degrees.
Our rule of thumb is that if you are hanging your deer you want to keep an eye on the temperature. A temperature in the middle 40’s is good. For most hunters, you should be able to safely allow your deer to hang for roughly 24 hours or so to allow for the rigor mortis process to take place. Once this time has passed you can then go ahead with your actions of processing and butchering of the deer meat to prepare it for the freezing, and long-term storage.
Important Note – We should make sure that everyone is on the same page here. When we are talking about temperature. We are referring to meat temperature. Not just the outside air temperatures of where the deer meat is hanging to age.
The best way to check the temperature of your deer meat while it's hanging to age is by using a meat thermometer. We opt for using a digital meat thermometer, as the readings are accurate and easy to read. If you're planning on hanging your deer meat for an extended period of time, then a meat thermometer (preferably a digital meat thermometer) will prove to be an invaluable tool in monitoring the process of your deer meat's temperature while it hangs to age.
Important Note - Hanging the meat outside is not an option if you hunt deer in a warm climate. This is very true for many of the southern states where the average temperatures are above the recommended temperatures outlined herein.
To get the most out of your deer meat, you would need to age it in a controlled environment. The best-case scenario of this would be - if you were able to have access to some kind of walk-in cooler where you could hang your deer kill, set up shop, and regulate the temperature properly. But unfortunately for us (as we are sure most other hunters) this just isn't possible. So, all that really remains now are taking our chances with the hanging of our deer meat outside.
When the weather is not cooperating with you or you live in one of the warmer deer hunting states, or you are left with no other alternative, the next best thing to do is skin and dress your deer at once. Once you have that process completed. You can either quarter up the deer, or cut the deer meat off the bones, and place those deer quarters or chunks of deer meat into a standard refrigerator. Many of you might have access to an extra refrigerator in your home or garage for aging your deer meat. This process works quite nicely in a pinch. Which makes it a great alternative, if you do not have access to hanging your deer kill outdoors for the suggested amount of time.
If you do have your deer outside hanging to cool and age. And for some reason you experience a sudden or even temporary increase in temperatures. You can always put a bag of ice in the deer's body cavity. Then wrap the deer carcass up tightly with a blanket, or something of that nature to help keep your deer meat cool.
This is a very good deer hunting question and is asked a lot and is often debated. Most often times we see deer kills being hung head up. However, when it comes time to hang your deer, head down is most often the best for cooling and aging the deer meat.
The reason for this is that heat rises, and deer being hung in the heads-up position have a more likely opportunity to catch and hold more heat inside of the natural body cavity. This extra heat could hinder the overall cooling process of the deer meat. Another reason for hanging your deer kill head down is that you can then tie off each leg of the deer and fully opening up the deer's body cavity. Which will allow for more even heat distribution, and for naturally cool air to help in cooling and regulating the temperature of the meat.
As soon as you have completed the field dressing process of your deer kill. You are now presented with the question of whether or not you should skin the deer (remove the deer's hide).
Skinning your deer as soon as you have field dressed it has several benefits. However, we'll only be covering the main benefit as it pertains to the process of cooling the deer meat.
When the hide of the deer is removed it will allow the meat to quickly cool. Which is an obvious benefit if you deer hunt in one of the warm deer hunting states, or if you have shot a young deer and the hanging and aging process of that deer will be limited due to its age.
Now on the flip side of the coin. Leaving the deer hide on can help to manage the cooling process of the deer meat by protecting it from cold freezing weather of winter and thus aiding in the process of the deer meats temperature regulation.
When it comes to hanging and butchering your deer meat. It's very important to adhere to the tips outlined here. Knowing how long to hang a deer before butchering is only one of the important things to know. Keeping a close eye on the temperature of your deer meat and knowing alternative methods for cooling your deer meat should they be needed can help you to improve the quality of your deer meat. That's all we have to say for now! It's been nice talking to you. We hope your next deer hunting trip goes well and that you've learned something new about how long to hang a deer before butchering.
To learn more about the Best Deer Hunting States click here!