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Tips for Processing Deer and Aging Deer Meat, with Videos

Updated on June 1, 2016

Dress Deer and Hang it to Age for Better Venison Recipes

Processing deer correctly is important, and whether you're deer hunting for a trophy buck or for meat for survival, you should never waste venison or any other meat. If you’re a deer hunter, you probably already know how to field dress deer. If not, watch the video below this article of how to dress a deer. The guy in the video does the job from start to finish in eight minutes. It’s obvious that this ain’t his first rodeo, so to speak. If you watch the video, you’ll notice that after the deer is skinned and gutted, the man hangs the deer in a walk-in cooler to hang. Processing deer is what will be discussed in this article.

Aged venison or deer meat has a much better flavor and texture than venison that hasn't been handled this way. If you've harvested very many deer, you probably have some great venison recipes, just as I do. For the best venison recipe I've ever tasted, click to see it!

Venison means survival for some families.
Venison means survival for some families.
A large deer can result in a lot of delicious meat.
A large deer can result in a lot of delicious meat.

Processing Deer Quickly

After you’ve killed a deer, don’t make the mistake a lot of novice hunters make and drive around for several hours with the dead deer in the back of your pickup showing it off to your buddies. The meat needs to be field dressed and cooled as quickly as possible.

For field dressing, you'll need to invest in a quality deer knife or hunting knife. You'll also need to keep the deer knife or hunting knife in prime condition, with a fine, sharp edge. This will make your job a lot easier and a lot quicker.

If you’re deer hunting in fairly warm weather, cooling the venison quickly is of utmost importance. In many parts of the South, it’s still warm outdoors at the beginning of deer hunting season. When that’s the case, some experienced deer hunters will place a bag of ice in the body cavity of the deer once field dressing has been completed. This will help keep the deer meat cool until it can be hung in a meat cooler or meat safe.

 

A delicious venison roast.
A delicious venison roast.

Why Age Deer Meat?

The best beef is aged beef. Some beef carcasses are hung for three to four weeks to age. This creates tastier and more tender beef. Enzymes in the muscle tissues break down over time, making the meat tender.

This same principle applies to processing deer meat, or venison. Hanging a deer in a meat safe or meat cooler will make the venison tender, and much of the wild or gamey taste will be removed.

The easiest and best way to accomplish this is to use a walk-in meat cooler or meat safe. The temperature of the meat safe is easy to regulate and to keep at a constant temperature. Air can also circulate around the deer meat while it’s hanging in the meat safe.

If you choose to improve the taste and quality of your deer meat through aging, do not freeze the venison until the aging process has been completed.

 

Tender aged deer meat.
Tender aged deer meat.

How Long Should Deer Meat Age?

 

As I already mentioned, prime aged beef might hang as long as several weeks. Deer, however, don’t need to hang this long. The length of time you need to age your venison depends on the age, sex, and size of the animal.

 

A young doe might need to age for only three to five days, while a large, older buck might need to age for eight to ten days. Aging deer meat for longer than ten days isn’t recommended.

 

The deer meat should be aged at a constant temperature, between 38 and 40 degrees.

 

Deer burgers, or venison burgers.
Deer burgers, or venison burgers.

To Skin or Not to Skin?

 

Some hunters who age their deer meat insist that they get better meat if they leave the hide on the deer. Of course, they first remove the entrails. The deer is then hung for several days to age the venison, and only then is the hide removed.

 

Other hunters prefer removing the hide before allowing the deer meat to age, completely field dressing the deer before hanging.

 

Grilled deer burgers
Grilled deer burgers

What if I Don't Have Access to a Meat Safe or Meat Cooler?

 

If you don’t have a meat safe or meat cooler, you can still age your venison. Field dress the deer as usual, removing the hide. Cut the deer up into sections and age it in a portable cooler for several days.

 

To do this, cut the deer meat into the hams, shoulders, and loins. Place ice in the bottom of a large plastic cooler, or in several coolers, and place a shallow rack on top of the ice. Rest the venison on the racks and allow it to age for several days. The deer meat should not be allowed to touch the ice. Check the temperature inside the cooler periodically, and change the position of the deer meat every day or so.

Deer sausage
Deer sausage

After the Deer Meat has Aged

Once your venison has aged, it’s time to cut it up. This is where good butchering supplies are a must. You’ll need a butcher knife, a filleting knife, and a meat saw as part of your butchering supplies. You might also watch to use a small hatchet and a hammer to break through larger bones.

The key to good butchering supplies is keeping them sharp. Start out with a razor-sharp edge, and check your butchering supplies frequently as you work. If you’re using your deer knife or hunting knife as butchering supplies, the edge can become dull from cutting through tendons, cartilage, and bones. Re-sharpen as needed to ensure clean cuts and easier butchering.

One of the most important things you want to do when you process your deer meat is to remove the fascia from the meat. Fascia, also referred to as “silver skin,” is the layer that covers the muscle tissue. This is best removed with a fillet knife.

How you cut up the deer meat is up to you. You might want to leave the hams, shoulders, and back straps whole, or you might prefer slicing them into steaks. Many people grind the shoulders into deer sausage or deer burgers.

If you want to make deer sausage or venison burgers, it’s best to add a little fat to the deer meat. Most venison is very low in fat, so many hunters add some beef or some beef tallow to their deer burger, and they add some ground pork to their deer sausage.

 

A walk-in meat cooler or meat safe.
A walk-in meat cooler or meat safe.

For the Frequent Deer Hunter

If you hunt deer frequently and are successful, you might want to invest in a meat safe. The meat safe can be used for a wide variety of game other than deer. If you find it too expensive, you might want to get a deer hunting friend to go in halves with you on the purchase of a meat safe or meat cooler. This would also be a good investment for a hunting club or a deer camp.

You’ll also need to invest in a good deer knife or hunting knife, along with quality butchering supplies. You'll need to maintain a very sharp edge on all your cutting and slicing tools. If you like to make your own deer burgers and venison sausage, you’ll need a meat grinder, too. You'll find a lot of uses for a meat grinder besides processing deer meat! All of these tools can be an important part of processing deer.

 

Make your own deer sausage with this sausage grinder.
Make your own deer sausage with this sausage grinder.

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    • Wild Earth profile image

      Wild Earth 3 years ago

      Excellent hub. I've thought about aging my venison but don't own a walk in cooler, so your ice chest tip is just what I was looking for.

    • Shaddie profile image

      Shaddie 5 years ago from Washington state

      Yummmmm, sounds delicious...

    • Inventurist profile image

      Inventurist 5 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Great article, very well put together. One point on the "hair on" concept for aging - the reason most folks would skin the deer is depending on where it was shot. Anything but a neck or head shot should be skinned out. It would be good to skin all of them. I agree on the aging, but remember what it is you are doing - letting bacteria break down the meat. Old bird hunters used to hang pheasant by their beak until they fell off...then they were "ripe." One tip on old bucks, if you hang them by the hooks, that is the 0 in the hip (ilium) using the weight of the rest of the hock to pull against the length of the loin, other long muscles, helps to tenderize all of the meat. Good hub!

    • profile image

      Andrew M 5 years ago

      Thanks Habee, I am a hunter and saw what improvements I can make to maximize the meat from the harvest. I am grateful for the opportunity for hunting as I live on a very tight budget.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      thanks, Nancy!

    • nancy_30 profile image

      nancy_30 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for the great information. We've never aged deer before. I'll let my husband read this so he can try it the next time his brother gives him a deer.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for reading my venison hub!

    • elf_cash profile image

      elf_cash 7 years ago

      Great tips for processing deer meat!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Garnet, I likde venison stew, but I don't think I'd want to eat it ALL winter! lol

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 7 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      Interesting; my Ex-husband used to hunt deer. I remember one winter we lived on Venison Stew.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Teddle, that's a good use for venison. I just don't like people cutting off the trophy head and leaving the rest of the deer to rot in the woods.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      2be, deer meat can be very tasty! Thanks for reading!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Sweetie, venison is delicious when it's prepared correctly!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Creek, you're exactly right. You don't always get your own deer meat back when you have it processed at a commercial plant.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Nifty, I think an acidic marinade helps some, but deer ribs still taste a little waxy to me.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      I agree, Bayou - cows and pigs are cute, too. Deer hunting is more humane than process farming and slaughterhouse torture.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Hi, Pam! Thanks for the comment!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for reading, Chris!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Dink, I bet you'd like my country-fried deer steaks!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Yep, Mystery - I've done this many times!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Kaie, sounds like my brother!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      You are so right, Katie! Thanks for sharing!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Hi, Billy! I have a hub about deer jerky, too!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Sheila, I don't want to see it end, either. Going into the woods and stalking, killing, and processing your own meat is ingrained in many Americans!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Sherri, your traditions sound much like ours! Thanks for reading, and I linked to your deer hunting hub!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Buckie, I'm pretty much a city slicker now, but I've done my share of deer hunting in the past. Good to see you!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Dimitris, thank you, my dear!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Gpage, I guess it's all about what we grow up with. My family has lots of hunters.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Sandy!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Eth, I think hunting is far more humane than slaughterhouses!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      GL, do you eat Babe, Elsie, Chicken Little, and Nemo??

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Hi, HH! Wonderful to see you again!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Hubber09, we have too many deer here. If they weren't hunted, many would starve to death.

    • Teddletonmr profile image

      Mike Teddleton 7 years ago from Midwest USA

      habee, I like your no nonsense approach to processing deer meat. Here in the midwest, folks understand deer hunting is a crucial part of wildlife management. Many hunters have the meat procissed, just to give it to people who otherwise would do without. That is a good thing.

    • 2besure profile image

      Pamela Lipscomb 7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      Excellent hub on aging deer meat. This is a great how-to for any hunter. I have not had venison for years. My mom did a great job cooking it.

    • sweetie1 profile image

      sweetie1 7 years ago from India

      Thanks for nice blog.. though i have never tasted deer as it is illegal to hunt and sell deer meat in India. But the old people tell us how tender and tasty deer meat is.

    • CreekWalker profile image

      CreekWalker 7 years ago from Tennessee

      Excellent. For those who are inclined to put forth the effort, it's always best to process your own deer so you know what you're getting!

    • nifty@50 profile image

      nifty@50 7 years ago

      Very interesting and informative hub! Between deer hunting and antelope hunting, I prefer antelope, because you ambush them in the open plain instead of sitting in a stand. Me and my wife both bagged one on our first and only time hunting in Colorado back in the fall of 1985! Any suggestions on removing the tallow taste of deer or antelope ribs?

    • bayoulady profile image

      bayoulady 7 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

      Habee SUPER JOB!

      Whee,doggy! Brings back memories!My grandfather was a game warden and he loved hunting game. I'm not lucky enough to have venison much anymore.

      As for how cute they look...hey, a cow is cute and most people love a good steak. Unless you are a vegetarian, what 's the difference?

      I had to laugh when I read your advice about not driving around in your truck stopping by to show all your buddies your deer! That is SO common in my neck of the woods. My son's best friend owns a meat market, and he bought a building next door , installed a huge cooler, and rents pods for hunters to age their meat. he will also process it for them.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      Habee, Back before my husband had his stroke he was a deer hunter all his life. Your hub is very good as you give so much information about the aging process.

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      Aged deer meat is the best! Nice hub, Habee !!

    • dinkan53 profile image

      dinkan53 7 years ago from India

      nicely presented hub and I'm sure that it will be a great help for the fellow deer hunters. I had only once in my life the deer meat and the taste is still in my mouth.

    • mysterylady 89 profile image

      mysterylady 89 7 years ago from Florida

      Have you ever tried this yourself?? I have been given fresh venison only once in my life.

      bty, I've published my first recipe hub. I'd appreciate an opinion.

    • Kaie Arwen profile image

      Kaie Arwen 7 years ago

      I will pass this onto my brother............ might teach him something he doesn't already know, but he'll never tell me that! :-D

    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 7 years ago from I'm outta here

      Habee, this is exactly what any successful deer hunter needs, the hunting part is the exciting part it's the what to do after that may need more planning. Great tips and I will def share this with all the deer hunters I know, here in Ohio we have many, deer hunting is a common practice. Thanks :)

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      Habee thanks for an excellent resource for processing deer meat - it is jerky time.

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 7 years ago

      In Vermont you have to bring your deer to be weighed so that's where all of the socializing takes place. Deer season is mid-November, though, so it's cold outside. It seems most towns have a store where hunters can bring their deer to be aged, butchered, and stored in lockers. Seeing the whole culture around hunting to provide for your family, I appreciate it and don't want to see it end.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      What a treat to read! Ours is a deer hunting family, one that "makes do". Because deer season starts here when the weather is cool to cold, we hang our deer in a barn, surrounding the carcass (skinless) with tall walls of stacked hay bales. If the weather warms up suddenly, well, the deer just doesn't age for very long. The process is very much a guy affair, with a good amount of whiskey and cigars passed around once the sharp knives are put away.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Central Oregon

      I like De Greek am not a hunter nor do I have hunters in the family - although I've been known to try bison and venison both, even cook with it. I don't think I'll run out and get a Betty Crocker on it though - although as he said, you've done it justice! I just don't think I could do it to be honest - hunt or process it! I am a total city slicker!

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 7 years ago from UK

      I am not a hunter and I don't expect to ever need this information, but you have managed to make this so interesting that I could not stop. AND I watched both videos. You have become a master! :-))

    • GPAGE profile image

      GPAGE 7 years ago from California

      habee..I ALWAYS THINK OF BAMBI! I JUST CAN'T HELP IT! HA

      When I was living in the UK, a friend down the street would invite me to come and take half a cow. I would stare at her with my mouth open! I would say "what?" Anyway, never grew up that way and never had the stomach for it. So, always interested to see the other side! ha Your articles are always really informative. I have learned a lot from you. Best, G

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 7 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      My husband is a deer hunter, so I will pass this along to him.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Hugely useful but nor for me. I am a bit hit and miss with meat. And hunting? You must be joking

    • G L Strout profile image

      G L Strout 7 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Thi is an interesting article and i learned a lot. I don't know though, Ilook at that face and I am not sure I could eat Bambi!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      That brings back memories of my mother's venison roast. I still can taste it. Great hub.

    • hubber-2009 profile image

      hubber-2009 7 years ago from India

      this has been banned in India. Even celeberities who have hunted deer has been sentenced..

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Glad you stopped by, Andhra!

    • profile image

      andhra history 7 years ago

      good article... for the first time am reading this kinda article... thank you... it is very interesting.