After many years of hunting, I’ve tasted many deer. Some good, some bad. Most hunters chalk up the taste to what stage the rut is in, some will say age or diet is a factor. The variables for taste can seem limitless. However, there are a few commonly overlooked reasons your venison tastes bad, keep reading.
1. Failure to make a clean kill.
It’s chemistry. Stress is the number one factor in affecting the taste of meat. Stressed deer are bad tasting deer. The longer the animal remains alive after being shot, the more stressed they become. The stress releases chemicals in their bodies that make for bad tasting meat. I’ve found that deer that die instantly are better tasting, even when rutting and age are a factor.
Many global and domestic agricultural organizations such as the USDA have studied the effects of stress on the taste of meat for decades. Meat characterized as dark cutting or dark, firm, and dry (DFD) is considered “high pH,” which in the meat industry is considered unusable. While game meat is generally darker in appearance than domestic cattle, the same principles still apply.
DFD results when an animal’s muscle glycogen reserves are depleted prior to expiration. At death, muscle glycogen is converted into lactic-acid. Lactic acid is the magic ingredient that makes meat tender and flavorful because it is responsible for the decline of pH during rigor mortis. Once a deer is hit, stress in the body causes adrenaline to be released into the system, prohibiting the production of lactic acid.
Whether you rifle or bow hunt, shot placement is by far the most important skill in executing a clean kill. Personally, I like to use a 7mm rem mag for meat hunts because it puts the animal down instantly.
Also, investing a little extra in ammo which is specific for deer is totally worth it. I’ve had some really good experiences with Barnes Vor-Tx, especially at long distances. Remember, the faster the deer expires, the better the meat.
2. Not cleaning your deer A.S.A.P.
Removing your deer’s organs immediately helps slow the growth of bacteria and slows the decomposition process. After death, the carcass begins to bloat due to the gases within the intestines. Ventilating the body cavity and removing the organs allows the carcass to cool quickly. A deer’s body is well insulated and can retain heat for a long time after death.
If you know you won’t be able to clean your deer right away, you should field dress your deer immediately. Keep in mind that warmer weather increases the growth of bacteria. For better tasting deer, you should have your deer cleaned and quartered within an hour of death.
When cleaning and quartering your deer, use a very sharp knife to ensure precise meat cuts.
One good knife is all you need to do an entire job of cleaning and quartering. Havalon makes great knives that are comparable to medical grade cutting tools and is currently my knife of choice. The better your knife is, the faster you can clean your deer and get it into ice.
3. Not cooling your deer.
It’s very important that once you have cleaned and quartered your meat to put it on ice. Investing in a good cooler is essential to meat processing. There are many coolers available that can keep ice for days at a time.
Keep your cooler outside with the drain open, this will allow the blood to continuously drain. Keep fresh ice in the cooler at all times.
The process of icing your meat, helps eliminate any overwhelming game taste, especially in older deer. For me, icing my meat has been a game changer in taste overall.
Ideally, you want to ice your meat for at least three days, but you can go even longer if you prefer. After icing your meat, you can begin preparing your meat for processing.
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