Prepping a deer for butchering is just as important as the butchering itself, especially if you prefer tender venison over tough, boiled leather that has a somewhat venison flavor. One of the mistakes some hunters make is quartering the deer during rigor mortis, which sets in after about 12 hours or so.
How long to hang a deer is contingent on a couple of conditions, namely the outside temperature and the general age of the deer. Collagen plays into the temperature, the age of the deer, and how long you hang it. You shouldn’t butcher your deer within 24 hours.
Rigor mortis usually sets within a few hours and, it can last anywhere between 12 and 24 hours. While the deer is going through this stage, you should avoid butchering it unless you have to do so.
How Long Should you Hang a Deer
You should hang a deer for longer than a day and never for more than two weeks. There is a lot that goes into hanging a deer, and the situation may change how long you can hang it.
For the most part, you have to have a standing cooler of some sort because the optimal temperature for hanging a deer in the long term is 35°F to 40°F. No matter what you do, the outside temperature is not going to cooperate within 5° for several days.
You’ll be lucky to get a full night where the temperature is exactly the right level. What you need is an environmentally controlled shed to hang the deer in—a shed where you can maintain the temperature within that 5° arc.
The Age of the Deer
Believe it or not, how old the deer is matters when you’re deciding how long you want to hang it. The key component here is collagen. The more collagen a deer has, the longer you need to age it. Collagen makes the meat tough, and if you butcher the deer too soon (when there is still a high percentage of collagen), your meat will be tough.
Aging the deer allows time for the natural enzymes to break down all that collagen, allowing for more tender meat. Some people associate this with rotting. There is a fundamental difference between rotting and aging.
- Yearling Bucks or Does: Butcher at day two, possibly day 3 if the temperatures are above 40°F.
- Two to Three Years Old: Butcher between days 5 and 8 which is the optimal hangtime for this age group.
- Older Bucks: If you’ve hunted long enough, you should know which bucks are sitting around four years of age and older. You can safely butcher these between the 9 and 13-day mark.
- The Longest Wait: Older bucks shouldn’t go any longer than 14 days.
There are times when the weather doesn’t cooperate, or you have trouble keeping the temps down in the shed. If this is the case and the temperatures are floating above 40°F, pack the chest cavity full of ice. Once the chest cavity is filled, wrap the buck in a blanket.
If the temps rise above 50°F and you have no way of bringing it down, process the deer immediately.
Temperatures below 35°F are just as bad as temperatures above 50°F. Well, maybe not quite as bad since a frozen deer is nominally better than a rotting deer. However, you don’t want your deer hanging when it’s exposed to below-freezing temperatures.
You don’t want the deer to freeze and then thaw inside a 24-hour window. You really don’t want the deer to freeze while it’s in the rigor mortis stage. It will still be edible, of course, if you enjoy eating rocks.
If you have to build a small fire near the carcass to get that temperature up, do what you have to do. If there is no way to get the temperature up, you may just have to butcher it regardless. It’s a better option than allowing the deer to freeze and thaw while it’s undergoing rigor mortis.
When we say “warm temperatures,” we don’t mean 90°F outside. We’re talking more along the lines of 41°F to 50°F+. You can still hang the meat, you just don’t want to do so for very long. Pushing it beyond 48 hours is getting pretty risky, and there is a fine line you have to walk.
Optimal temperature for hanging
With all of that being said, there is the perfect temperature range for hanging your deer. It’s between 35°F and 40°F. Some hunters may advise you to go with a slightly different temperature, but it won’t be too far off the mark.
This is your best-case scenario. If there is any way you can keep the temperature within this zone, do so. It’s not the easiest thing to do if you hang your deer outside, since mother nature rarely wants to cooperate when it’s something you want.
Best way to hang a deer
The easiest way to do it is to hang your deer on the rafters in the garage, shed, or something you can construct outside. A hanging and hoist kit makes things simple because it will come with a pulley and a rope.
It allows you to drop the hanger down, where you can puncture the Achilles tendon on both legs and run the ends of the hanger through, effectively hooking the deer at the ankles. Now, all you have to do is pull it up. Some hunters hang their deer by the antlers or head, but that’s not the best way to hang and age deer meat.
Twelve days, give or take a few, is the optimal time for hanging deer meat, assuming your deer is 3½ years or older. Younger than that, and your days start shrinking down. Two days is the quickest hang time for a yearling buck or a young doe.
But you should never go beyond 14 days. Some might tell you to go 15 days, however, it doesn’t honestly matter. There’s not going to be a mind-blowing difference in the taste of the meat over a single day when the deer is 14 days old on the rack.
The only thing you’re risking by going beyond 14 days is bacteria taking over when all you want are the enzymes. Bacteria causes rot—enzymes from the natural aging process are your friend.
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