How long should you hang a deer carcass?
To get the best flavour from your game you need to hang the meat so that it matures. But how long should you hang venison for?
What is the recommended time to hang venison?
It’s hard to give exact timings for hanging venison as much depends on where it is stored, the age of the beast, how you want it to taste and whether it has been skinned. However here are a few tips for hanging a deer carcass. (You might also like to read our guide to essential stalking kit.)
- Venison needs to kept clean and hung in order to improve texture and flavour .
- The length of hanging depends on the temperature and on your own taste buds.
- The longer the venison hangs, the more tender it becomes.
- Hanging a deer causes the enzymes in the meat to break down the fibres.
- Older beasts need longer to tenderise.
- The length of hanging can mature the taste from a mild to a more gamey taste.
- Never hang a deer by the neck or the antlers, it should be hung by the hind legs which allows residual heat to escape and air to circulate.
- If the temperature in your fridge is just above freezing, then the carcasses can hang in the skin for around three weeks.
- A wipe inside the carcass with a cloth dipped in water with salt/and or vinegar added and then wrung out removes a lot of the taint often associated with hanging meat.
- The skin protects the meat and helps to prevent it from drying out too quickly, so many stalkers like to leave it on until they are ready to butcher the carcass. However this is open to debate. Some believe it is better to skin the beast first as the surface dries and encourages a meat with more flavour.
What do the experts say?
We asked some Shooting Times contributors and stalkers what they thought about timings for hanging a deer carcass.
Ireland-based Barry Stoffell commented: “If anything’s guaranteed to provoke a lively debate amongst stalkers, this’ll do it!
“Over the years I’ve heard it all (and tried most of it) and the truth is that it totally depends on the animal and your own personal setup (which is often affected by the weather); most recreational stalkers won’t have access to a game larder.
“Firstly, I almost always skin deer as soon as I get them back home and hung up (in the barn, in my case). I have always found skinning deer to be far easier before the carcass has set – I do know some people who claim otherwise and I will concede that different deer species have their own features, but this is my experience, dominated by sika. Stalking the mountains and forests here usually involves significant drags before the carcass can be recovered to a vehicle and even with the utmost care, the hide will pick up dirt and debris, providing an added incentive to remove these sources of contamination as soon as practical (this is especially significant in the rut, when stags will have been wallowing and soaking themselves in their own natural ‘perfume’ even before you get there). (Read Barry’s instructions for making a antler-handle knife).
“I hang the carcass in a cool, dark, airy barn under a box net to ‘set’. In cold weather (less than around 7°C) I’ll happily leave it there for a few days if I’m busy, in warmer weather I might get to it as soon as the following day. After this, I tend to butcher into the primal cuts and ‘age on’ in a large fridge with a fan. In this more easily controlled environment, the amount of secondary ageing will depend entirely on the animal and what I intend to use it for – young deer, especially hinds, require very little time to make them tender and haunch steaks cut after a few days will be just fine. Conversely, an old animal or a large stag in the peak of the rut will benefit from allowing the tenderising enzymes to work for longer – although these beasts are usually destined for the mincer, and sausages and burgers don’t really require the venison to be especially tender.” (You can read Barry’s recipe for venison sausages here.)
Graham Downing said: “If you are proposing to retain a deer carcass for butchery and home consumption, then you should hang it in order to allow the meat to set and the flavour to develop. Hang it at between 5⁰C and 7⁰C, which for most of the year means putting it in a chiller. I normally hang for 7 days, but if the carcass is in any way badly shot then you may need to butcher it sooner than this. I always hang in the skin and remove the skin immediately prior to butchering. It may be easier to skin a warm carcass than a cold one, but the meat of an in-skin carcass is protected from contact with dirt and micro-organisms in a way that the meat of a skinned carcass can never be.”
It’s worth taking a professional game meat course
The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation frequently runs game meat hygiene courses which cost around £140 for members and qualify you to sell game meat to game handling establishments, which is a legal requirement if you want to sell game to game dealers.
It’s regarded as the industry standard and not only covers wild deer and wild boar but also small game including pheasants, partridge, duck, rabbit and hare.
The game meat hygiene courses are certified by the National Gamekeepers Organisation and the Food Standards Agency and even if you aren’t planning on selling on your venison you will learn how to handle game safely and efficiently.
This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.