The “meat pole” was a standard appliance in old-school deer camps around the country, yet is not used as much today, partially due to the abundance of butcher shops and big game processors usually found in deer country. Not only are many deer processed the same day they are killed, but if you visit a deer butcher, you’ll find that most still have the hide on. The purpose of this post isn’t “game shaming” but to thank the Field & Stream folks for this informative post about “hang time.”
Personally, I’ve been a deer hunter for 50 years and have never hung meat for any extensive time, mostly because I didn’t know if it was good for the meat and for what period it should age. Some hunters are keenly aware of how to tenderize venison by aging and they aren’t necessarily in the deer camps of Maine or Michigan. I once hunted with a man from South Carolina who told me that he had shot over 500 deer and usually takes about 30 annually. He has a large friend group and frequently entertains folks who love venison and he has taken extensive preparation to process venison for the greatest culinary benefit. “We have a small cleaning area adjacent to a large walk-in cooler so that we can clean, wash, and hang deer for up to two weeks at 35 degrees
Fahrenheit,” he said with a discernible sparkle in his eye as if he was tasting the meat as he spoke. “Also, we have a large fire pit where we barbecue and entertain guests who often oogle at the hanging meat.” South Carolina has one of the most liberal deer seasons in the USA, yet many states allow the harvest of unlimited does, if this deer hanging facility has appeal. As you will read in this post, temperature is an important factor when aging deer and the recent trend of summer spilling into fall can be a complication. Even if you use a local butcher shop, ask the owner if he will allow your deer to hang according to this timetable. Since he will be inundated with deer, postponing the processing to a later time will doubtfully be a problem.
You shot a deer. Here’s how long you need to wait for the tenderest meat
If you must butcher your deer today, don’t freeze the meat. Rigor mortis, which sets in soon after death and lasts 12 to 24 hours, contracts and stiffens muscle tissue, making meat less tender. Freezing before this is complete results in thaw rigor, or more colloquially, “shoe leather.”
Tip: If temps are high, quarter or bone out your deer and age the meat in a refrigerator.
If you shot a yearling buck or doe, process it now. These deer are tender by nature and don’t need as much hang time. Shorten the hang time if temps are on the high side (40s), as this makes both collagen breakdown and bacterial growth happen faster.