One of the most common questions after a successful deer hunt is how long to hang a deer. It’s probably not the most common question for one simple reason: a lot of people figure it’s good to just chop them as soon as they’re done.
If you have the place for it, however, aging your venison a little bit can add a lot of flavor and smooth out the rough texture of the meat amazingly quick. There’s a few precautions you’ll want to take, but let’s get into how long you should actually leave them up there before you do the final butchering.
The Short Answer: “It Depends”
That definitely sounds like a non-answer, but the truth is that figuring out how long to hang your deer will depend largely on where you are and what kind of facilities you have access to.
The following are all important factors to keep in mind when you bring your prize home or back to camp:
- The Age of the Deer
- What You Have Access To
The ideal temperature for hanging is between 35°F and 45°F. At this temperature the meat won’t begin to rot, but it also won’t freeze which will prevent aging from taking place.
You can actually replicate this temperature with a refrigerator that’s calibrated properly, but unless you have access to a walk-in you won’t be able to hang them.
That said, if you’re creative you can often find a way to manage to replicate the hanging process within a refrigerator:
If you’re lucky enough to be in an area where the temperature is proper, then your main concern will be to keep away other animals that might want a chunk of delicious venison.
How Long to Hang a Deer- Here Comes the Science!
Since there’s so many different factors coming into play, it helps to know a little bit of the science behind hanging venison for aging.
The main thing that you’re trying to accomplish is the aging of the meat, which brings out flavor and makes things more tender. This is why it’s important not to stick to a single “catch-all” answer for the length of time.
While aging has sometimes been described as “controlled rotting” by those who aren’t fans, that’s not strictly true. Rot is a process which occurs readily when bacteria are eating the meat, but by controlling the conditions the meat is in it can be avoided.
Instead, aging relies on natural mechanisms within the muscle that you’re planning on consuming to soften things up and concentrate the flavors since fluids are evaporating.
This is why a lot of novice hunters end up with tough venison, they simply butcher and freeze the animal’s flesh thinking that the process is done.
Instead, by hanging a deer or aging it in any other way you’ll end up with the delicious meat that most people associate with venison.
The culprit behind this toughness is a tissue called collagen. Younger animals will have less of it, which is why they’re so much more tender and you can get away with dry aging them for only a couple of days. Older animals will naturally have more, but the enzymes within the tissue will readily break it down if given time.
What does all of this mean? Well, firstly you should never butcher your deer before rigor mortis is over. Doing that will land you with thick chunks of meat that’s hard to chew and digest, proper aging only begins once the animal’s muscles have relaxed again.
Rigor mortis occurs between twelve and twenty four hours of the kill, so keep that in mind when you’re on the hunt.
The Optimal Timing for Amazing Meat
Now that we’ve overloaded you with information, let’s talk about a more practical way to get perfect meat.
Your deer will fare best if aged for at least a couple of days, and for younger animals a couple of days is fine. Obviously, if you’re not in a situation where you have access to a place of suitable temperature to hang your deer then you’ll have to make some concessions.
In these cases, butcher the animal as soon as rigor mortis ends. You can’t just hang your deer in bad conditions and hope it will age properly, wishful dreams do not make for exceptional meat.
For animals two years of age or under you want to hang them for two to three days. This allows adequate time for some aging to occur and since there’s less collagen present in the tissue you won’t receive as much benefit from allowing them to hang for longer although you certainly can if you prefer.
Older animals should hang for a week to two weeks. For this length of time, however, things can get a bit tricky if you don’t have access to a meat locker.
You need to make sure the temperature of the area your prize is in doesn’t get above 45°F for any considerable period of time and that it doesn’t drop below freezing. Try for at least four to five days, but don’t be afraid to butcher it after a day or two if the temperature is fluctuating.
Over two weeks and there’s not much real benefit to allowing things to go on for longer and it will quickly become detrimental to the quality of the meat.
Keep this in mind: hanging is the traditional way to age venison but most people haven’t found much of a difference in anything but skinning the deer.
If you don’t have access to a proper meat locker you can definitely just hang the deer until rigor mortis has ended, quarter them, and place them in a cooler of the appropriate temperature for the desired amount of time.
This is particularly a good idea if you have wildly fluctuating outside temperatures during the season you harvested in.
If you’ve been wondering how long to hang a deer, you’re now armed with the knowledge to end up with the perfect venison on your table after your next hunt. It doesn’t require much effort to get things done correctly and it can be the difference between the “boot leather” venison that people despise and some of the best meat in the world.
Any more questions? Comments on your favored methods? Let us know in the comments below.