The weather will be warm to hot when you start bowhunting in September or early October. Whether you shoot a doe or 150-inch buck, it is your ethical and legal obligation to properly care for the meat. Allowing an animal to spoil is not only the biggest sin in the hunter’s code of conduct, but in an extreme case a conservation officer could cite you for wanton waste.
You want to do right and you want good, clean venison; here are some things to keep in mind when the temperature is 60 to 70 degrees or more.
After the Shot
Climb out of your stand and go look for the deer as soon as you can after the shot. The less time between shot and recovery, the less chance the meat will degrade in the heat.
A deer hit solidly in heart and/or lungs will die fast and generally within 100 yards. You should be able to find your deer within 15 minutes or so.
When I hit a doe or buck a tad back, in the liver, I prefer to wait 2 hours before trailing. But when it is 50 degrees or warmer (bacterial growth increases at 40 degrees and up) I push it. Dark-red blood at the site of impact and on an arrow indicates a liver hit, which is lethal. Wait 30 minutes maybe and go find that animal.
We never want to hit a deer in the guts, but let’s not stick our heads in the sand, it happens. In warm weather, this presents a big dilemma.
When a broadhead and arrow pierce a deer’s paunch, blood fills the body cavity, with much of it staying in the blood vessels. The animal does not “bleed out” quickly, and hence the quality of the venison suffers. If you wait too long to recover the deer, the blood will spoil and ruin the meat.
The old bowhunters’ rule is to wait 8 to 12 hours before following a gut-shot deer. If you wait that long when it’s 50 to 70 degrees, your intentions are good, but you will lose that meat.
I have found over the years that many deer shot in the paunch die quicker and closer to your stand than many hunters think. I’ve left deer 8 hours or more, only to find them within a couple hundred yards of my stand, stiff as a post and apparently dead for 6 hours or so. All things considered, I say give it 4 hours max and go and hope for the best.
Find The Deer and Cool It
Say a little prayer of thanks and tag the animal. Next, get the meat cool soon as you can.
In many places I’ve hunted, my fellow hunters and guides don’t gut a deer. They load it in the pickup and head for the nearest meat processor. I always feel funny doing this, like I’m missing out on something. Least I can do is gut a deer and get my hands dirty, right?
But really, trucking a deer to a processor is the best thing you can do in hot weather. A good processor will gut and skin the deer in minutes and hang it in cold storage, ensuring top-quality protein.
Your next best option is if your camp or a friend has a walk-in cooler. Field-dress the deer soon as you find it, turn it over and drain blood out of the body cavity as you can. Haul it to the cooler, and hang it at a chilly 34 to 38 degrees.
Skin the Deer
In September or early October, it never hurts to skin a deer as quickly as possible so the meat will begin to cool down. This is a must if you don’t have access to cold storage and intend to hang your deer in the shade of a tree. To do this, the air temperature needs to be 40 degrees or cooler at night.
Ice Down the Meat
If you have a long drive home with a field-dressed deer carcass, buy a couple 10-pound bags of ice and stuff them tight inside the body cavity to help the cool down process.
In a remote area, common when hunting mule deer but sometimes whitetail, your best and sometimes only option to preserve the meat is to skin and quarter a buck and pack it out as soon as possible.
I know you’ll not forget to carve out the tenderloins, but don’t forget the little “inside tendies,” and slabs of neck meat. If your state requires it, remember to leave proof of sex attached to one hind quarter.
Packing out a skinned and quartered animal requires the use of game bags to keep the meat clean and to protect it from flies, which are always a pesky problem in warm weather. Left unchecked on a warm day, flies will lay eggs on the meat and ruin it. You sure don’t want that.