How Long Will Deer Meat Last in the Freezer?

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If like me, you hunt every season, you’ll need to know ‘how long will deer meat last in the freezer?’ According to the US Drug Administration (USDA), venison steaks and roasts will stay fresh nine months on average if frozen at 0° for best quality. On the other hand, ground venison will keep from going bad for three months before starting to deteriorate.  

There is no adequate answer to this question as it all hinges on how well prepared and frozen your venison is stored. If your deer meat has been vacuum sealed, it can safely last two or even three years in the freezer. 

Why Hunters Find It Necessary to Preserve Their Precious Venison

I covet my venison, much like every other deer hunter I know.  It’s a valuable commodity, and we know how much we’ve invested in harvesting it, and I am not only referring to money.

Nothing beats the satisfaction of packing my freezer with deer meat. I can’t put a price on giving my family clean, fresh organic venison. 

This totally makes up for hours I spent frozen on the tree stand, the experience only augmenting my value for this food commodity.

Sometimes, I will shoot several deer each season, in and out of state. Other times, I have tagged an elk and ended up with venison that stretches into the future. 

But just how long will deer meat last in the freezer? A lot of variables come into play, some that greatly enhance the longevity of frozen venison and its quality when you finally decide to cook it.

What to Consider for Favorable Meat Freezing After the Kill

Temperature

When you’ve killed the animal, a time bomb starts ticking. You must open up the deer soon after so that the meat cools down, especially if outdoor temperatures are beyond 40° F. 

Bacteria

What you are up against in maintaining the quality of your deer meat before packing and freezing are pathogens. Bacteria, fungi, and enzymes are already present on the meat, growing exponentially on a deer’s carcass to accelerate the rotting process.

Field dressing involves gutting and sometimes skinning the deer to start off the cooling process. Removing the innards gets rid of the hubbub of bacteria while also lightening the meat load by nearly 20%. 

After field dressing, hang the venison past the 24-hour rigor mortis duration or longer if you prefer it cured. Freezing deer meat before rigor passes will toughen it. 

Aging or curing venison is a process that takes controlled advantage of the bacterial and fungal enzymes that cause deer meat spoilage. You can hang the carcass in a cool breezy place, letting these microbes soften and make venison succulent. 

Quarter and place your deer meat in a cooler or ice when transporting it home from the field.

Preparing Venison before Storing It in a Freezer

You’ve heard the saying that haste makes waste. This is true for the packing or processing process of deer meat before freezing. 

An inadequate packing, whether vacuum sealing or wrapping, will let your venison deteriorate faster in the freezer.

The number one enemy of deer meat in the freezer is cold air. This causes a phenomenon called freezer burn, which is oxidization and dehydration of your venison.

Cold, dry air causes the water molecules in the frozen deer meat to come to the surface where ice crystals are formed. While you may not see the frosty ice crystals, dehydration and discoloration on freezer burnt meat are obvious.

You’ll see whitish greyish patches on your otherwise fresh venison. 

To keep cold air from coming in contact with your deer meat, use vacuum sealers that remove air from the packages. The best vacuum packaging bags remove all the air and offer an integral air-tight seal. 

Look for the best quality of vacuum seal bags that are thick enough to withstand accidental punctures caused by stacking packs of meat in a freezer. 

Will the Prolonged Freezing of Venison Affect Its Quality?

Since the question was, ‘how long will deer meat last in the freezer?’ the honest answer can be ‘indefinitely.’ However, even perfect packaging and vacuums sealing, or keeping the freezer temperature below 0° cannot maintain freshness forever. 

Taking out a well-packaged venison roast from the freezer after five years will guarantee your household a solid meal. However, the meat quality will be far different from when the cut was fresh or had been frozen for say, six months.

A rule of thumb to go by is that the larger the meat piece, the longer its original succulence and flavor will be maintained. Thick cut steaks and roasts that have been appropriately packaged and frozen will remain outstanding for the table year after another.

Chops, thinner cuts, and mince or ground venison should be consumed within three to six months. Venison mince, which traps loads of air within its individual pieces, goes sour quicker and should be eaten first out of the freezer. 

Be mindful that there are state regulations on the amount of time you can store harvested deer meat at home. Many places will require hunters to consume all the season pickings within the year, or before the next season opens. 

So, How Long Will Deer Meat Last in the Freezer?

If you slide by the eat-by dates prescribed above for your frozen deer meat, check a small edibility piece. When venison looks, smells, and tastes okay, then it’s fine to eat.

While freezer burnt venison won’t harm you, it’s not an experience you’ll savor. The oxidized and dehydrated meat parts will taste dull or blunt and feel dry with a leathery texture. 

You can save a cut by shaving off the discolored parts with a sharp knife and cooking the remainder.

Between one open season and the next, you can stock enough deer meat with the right preparation, packaging, and freezing. Your care for last season’s venison, right from the deer’s downing until it reaches your plate, will determine its post-freezing freshness and flavor. 

I recommend that you avoid prolonged freezing periods, limiting venison that is frozen fresh to eight months. If you cured or aged your meat before packaging it for the freezer, give it four months tops for the best results.

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