Deer hunters can disagree about almost anything – morning or afternoon, head-first or not, head up or head down – and many do what they learned years ago. Daily Messenger (Canandaigua, N.Y.) photo

Hunters, especially deer hunters, can be a particularly argumentative lot, endlessly debating the best rifle caliber, fixed versus mechanical broadheads, morning versus afternoon, tracking versus stand hunting and when peak rut occurs. Some make a good case for their opinion while others just figure their way has to be right because it’s their way.

Let me offer some examples.

Up north, most folks field dress their deer while it’s far more common down south to drag them out whole. I never could see the sense of dragging and extra 25-30 pounds of entrails out of the woods only to drag it off somewhere else later, but that’s just me. Then again, their deer are smaller than ours.

I suppose if you’re running an intensive deer management program you might want to be able to compare live versus dressed weight, but the extra effort required exceeds the value derived from that information. Some hunters contend a gut pile attracts scavengers and predators, which is true; but does it matter? I’ve watched plenty of deer approach fresh gut piles and their reaction varied from mildly cautious to indifferent and even curious. Taking the guts out as soon as possible also removes potential contaminants and allows the body to cool faster, all things you want.

There’s an old joke about a warden who encounters a hunter dragging his deer out by the hind legs. When the warden tells him he’s dragging it the wrong way, the hunter turns around and starts dragging the deer off in the opposite direction. This one seems a little more clear cut. Deer – their hair, their limbs, their body – are designed to move forward. If you drag a deer out head-first it will be much easier because you’re going with the grain of the hair rather than against it. You’re also less inclined to get leaves, dirt and other potential contaminants in the body cavity, assuming you field dressed it. Still, I know some folks who insist on dragging deer and even moose out hind legs first. To each their own.

Once you get the deer back to camp or home, it’s time to hang it, which brings us to one of the more contentious debates. I’ve always hung my deer head down, first because that’s the way I learned to do it. Second, because it’s much easier to skin and butcher in that position. Some contend you should hang a deer head up so the blood doesn’t pool up in the neck or chest. By the time you get it to the game pole there shouldn’t be any blood left so that argument doesn’t really hold water, or blood. Others claim that one way or the other is disrespectful, but as both sides make the same claim with equal fervor there’s no clear winner there.

Once it’s hanging, the next question involves how long to leave it there. I once hunted a Texas ranch where they practiced “hot boning.” The animal was brought back to the skinning shed where it was skinned, boned and put in the freezer before it had time to cool. One of the guides who had studied meat processing claimed it produced superior venison.

The best venison I’ve ever eaten was from a deer I shot just before departing on an out-of-state hunt. That deer hung outside for nearly 10 days and was almost tender enough to cut with a fork. I’ve since done a lot of research on the subject and conventional wisdom strongly suggests that under the right conditions, the longer they hang, better. Proper aging requires a controlled temperature regime – above freezing but cool enough to prevent contamination from insects and bacteria. If it’s too warm you’ll have to process it sooner. Too cold and it just won’t age.

Debates on whether to field dress, which way to drag and hang your deer and how long to hang it will continue. In some cases the evidence more strongly favors one side. In others, it comes down to personal preference and what works for you. In deer hunting as in life that seems to be the best philosophy: do what works best for you and don’t worry about others.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: 

[email protected]

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