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If you want to get the most differing answers from hunters around the camp fireside, ask how long to hang a deer. A definitive answer among your hunting peers may not be forthcoming or straightforward, but the answer is, on average, five to seven days.
Conventional wisdom dictates that venison is hung to age, allowing the meat to cool and tenderize. This increases the flavor and succulence of deer meat.
Beneficial bacteria work on the muscle fibers to break them down after the carcass has undergone rigor mortis.
Hang Your Deer or Contend With Venison as Tough as Belt Leather
After you’ve downed a deer, the meat starts to cool and stiffen as the muscles contract. This is the worst possible time to butcher and cook your venison.
Don’t freeze the meat either during the rigor mortis phase since this only suspends the process. I prefer to find a meat pole where I can gut and skin my deer soon after the hunt.
Others prefer their venison to remain attached to the deer’s fur, hanging it to let the meat make. You may be wondering how to hang a deer long and whether it hangs on its hindquarters or its front.
The natural processes that work at tenderizing your meat also require the perfect temperature. Your deer’s age is also a determinant factor of how long your venison will be hanging.
Collagen in the deer’s muscles must sufficiently break down; otherwise, your meat will toughen. Younger animals have less collagen than older ones, which is why younglings have tender venison.
With older deer, you have to extend the hang-time, giving the enzymes a longer duration to tenderize your meat.
Scientific Reasons behind Hanging a Deer
Succulent flavor and tenderization are the two answers to why you have to hang your deer after the kill. While many people associate aging with rotting, hanging a deer will involve letting the meat tenderize without going to rot.
This is a concept as old as hunting itself, which is as old as humans themselves. Though it’s a tried and tested technique, many meat-eaters are still skeptical about the scientific support behind aging.
Contrary to common belief, it’s not the rot causing bacteria that adds flavor to hung meat. Beneficial fungi called Thamnidium release an enzyme that causes meat to become succulent.
This mold starts to grow on postmortem venison soon after the deer is down. Factors that are conducive to Thamnidium sporing and growth include time, temperature, and relative humidity.
The breakdown of collagen also tenderizes deer venison. The amount of this compound in your deer’s meat will determine how long to hang a deer.
The culprit responsible for breaking down collagen in post-mortem meat is lactic acid. This forms after carbon dioxide accumulates in the venison, due to the lack of circulation.
Carbon dioxide is the by-product of red blood cells, which continue consuming all the oxygen after the deer is dead. When collagen is acted upon by lactic acid, it results in tenderized meat, flavored in the process.
There you have it, two scientifically sound reasons for aging deer meat before turning it into table fare.
Do Positions and Conditions Determine How Long to Hang a Deer?
The geographical compass, as well as the cultural one, does influence how you hang your deer. I am from the Midwest, and I can vividly remember what happened after my first deer hunt.
What has stuck with me, aside from downing my first buck, was how the meat was then recovered and butchered. There was no field dressing of venison that day; everything was to happen back in camp.
I clearly recall that my buck hung by his antlers, something that went against what I was taught. With gritted teeth, I went along with their typical Oklahoma venison breakdown process.
Since that time, I have developed my unique way of dressing and aging deer meat. However, I still see many variations of these same curing techniques across other parts of the country.
We now know that rigor mortis sets in soon after you down the deer, lasting up to 24 hours. Butchering your deer before the process is complete results in tough meat.
A significant consideration of how long to hang deer is temperature. You can’t hang deer for the same duration in every temperature, and you must find your region’s optimum hanging time.
What’s the Optimum Temperature for Hanging Deer?
I recommend hanging deer at between the temperature scales of 35° to 40° Fahrenheit. This is equal to between 1.7° and 4.4° Celsius.
Temperatures below 35 degrees can cause the water within the venison to freeze, halting the aging process. Above 40 degrees, rotting bacteria will overpower the beneficial fungi enzymes, causing the meat to go bad.
Optimum temperatures can allow you to hang deer inside your home, but a calibrated walk-in refrigerator is the best equipment for venison aging.
Low temperate dwellers hanging deer indoors should minimize hang time. In the same breath, high temperatures should mean shorter hang time.
When you have dressed the meat and rigor is over, gauge the tenderization of meat every few hours, depending on room temperature.
If you live in hot, humid areas, I advise you butcher the meat and freeze it soon after the 24-hour rigor mortis period. You risk harmful rot bacteria by hanging deer for an extended period at temperatures above 40°F.
In some cases, temperatures in your region may stay cool only to spike once in a while. My way around this is to insert a pack of ice blocks within the deer’s chest cavity and wrap up the carcass with a sheet or towel.
Your Deer’s Age
We have talked about the breaking down of collagen by lactic acid as one of the scientific reasons deer meat should be hung.
Young foals under two years old don’t have much collagen in their meat, demanding at least three days to tenderize their venison. Older deer that’s more than two years old require seven full days to improve their meat’s tenderness and flavor.
Never go past 15 days no matter how ancient your deer is, as this poses a health risk.
Which Is the Best Way to Hang Deer for Aging?
Unless you are in a clean, controlled environment, field dressing a deer can expose it to dirt and pathogens. On the other hand, getting rid of guts and innards before having to haul the deer back to camp can save you a broken back.
Unzipping your deer will also depend on the climatic temperature where you are hunting. Warm temperatures above 40 and 50 degrees will necessitate a quicker gutting or field dress than in colder regions.
Benefits of Hanging Deer by the Antlers
When you hang your deer, do it by its head. Here’s why;
Guts fall out much easier when you hang deer by the antlers. Upside down hanged deer means the chest cavity forms a bowl that catches innards when you are gutting.
There’s better drainage for guts, blood, and other deer innards, flowing out down the deer as opposed to the opposite. A meat hanging pole or opportune tree branch may be hard to come by out in the field.
If it’s necessary to pack out venison for significant distances like out west, I suggest hanging the deer by its head.
The logic in this instance is to work at deboning after removing all four quarters. In an open country scenario, this process is completed as near the ground as the available trees will allow.
Like most trophy hunters, your buck’s antlers should be protected from damage. To preserve the memory of this hunt, hang the deer by his rack to avoid breaking tines, or scraping the precious cape.
A shoulder mount of the cape can be had in primo condition by securing the hanging rope at the base of his antlers.
Hanging a Deer by Its Hindquarters
When they taught me to field dress a deer, it was like many other hunters by its hind legs. This method has its benefits too, but it continues to exist mainly because of tradition.
Truth be told hunters revere tradition. I want to hunt on the same opening day stand, wear my lucky cap, and tell the same old yarns at the campfire side.
Preferences and the Love of Well-Aged Venison
It’s all about what you want as a hunter, and how far you are willing to go without ruining your harvest. Preference will affect the length of time your deer hangs while playing in factors like temperature and age of deer.
Flavorful and tender venison is the result of hanging deer for longer periods in cold conditions. With this knowledge in hand, you can adjust room temperature settings if you want your meat tenderized in record times.
Hang your deer to start the aging process. Don’t freeze your deer meat before the 24 hours allowable for rigor mortis.
I can’t make any comparisons in tenderness or flavor between aged meat and venison that’s butchered immediately after the kill.
Evidence of aging quality is at your local meat market. You will find aged meat varieties costing at least 15 or 20 percent more than fresh meat.
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36 years old, been hunting and fishing my entire life – love the outdoors, family, and all kinds of hunting and fishing! I have spent thousands of hours hunting hogs and training hunting dogs, but I’m always learning new stuff and really happy to be sharing them with you! hit me up with an email in the contact form if you have any questions.