That are many reasons for storing deer meat on ice, and if you deal with venison, you will likely run into one of them sooner or later.’
Whether you are storing on ice for a long pack out, don’t have time to butcher all at once, or are wet aging your venison, the process is similar.
The maximum shelf life of venison on ice is ten days with excellent maintenance, but seven days is more common.
How Long Can Deer Meat Stay Fresh on Ice?
As mentioned above, the maximum time for venison on ice is ten days. However, this is under near-perfect conditions.
Depending on your scenario and setup, you may be able to achieve this.
For example, if you have just harvested a deer and want to get the meat chilled, you will still be dealing with rigor mortis.
In this case, you would want to get the meat on ice and hold it at around 40F but do not let it freeze.
In warm weather, you could expect to get 2-3 days on ice, allowing enough time to pack out.
At home, you may be working with more favorable conditions, such as keeping the cooler in a cold area and being able to top up the ice frequently.
In this case, you could expect the meat to last ten days on ice so long as you maintain the proper conditions, which I will go into below.
Factors That Affect the Shelf Life of Deer Meat on Ice
One of the biggest influences on the longevity of venison on ice is the outside temperature.
This is because it directly influences the moisture content and how long the ice will last.
Some features of modern coolers can limit some of the effects of the external temperature, but it will always directly affect the time the meat can stay on ice by either being too hot or too cold.
The ice will melt considerably fast if the temperature outside is too hot. This causes a rapid temperature change, creating a situation for bacteria to grow.
What also happens is that the moisture content increases, creating a thriving condition for unwanted bacteria and degrading the venison’s quality.
The increased moisture can cause the venison to become waterlogged if the meat sits directly in the water.
This will cause the texture to deteriorate, the color to become pale, and it will lose flavor.
One way to combat the above is to get a high-quality cooler to store your venison on ice.
You can store venison on ice for longer in a good-quality cooler than in a budget cooler.
Two features are crucial in a cooler if you want to store venison- Good insulation and a drain plug.
As I mentioned above, if the external temperature is hot, the ice will rapidly melt, leaving a pool of water that will affect the quality of the meat.
Both of the mentioned features protect this from happening, thus allowing you to store the venison on ice for longer.
The insulation slows down the ice melting, and the drain plug allows you to remove excess water.
Type of Ice
There are two types of ice that you can use to keep your venison on, regular wet ice and dry ice.
Studies show that dry ice can keep food for up to 3 times longer than regular wet ice.
Also, as the name suggests, dry ice doesn’t leave water behind.
Meat directly exposed to ice will not last as long as Vaccum-packed meat on ice. Exposed meat is at risk of becoming waterlogged or drying out. It is also at an increased risk of bacteria growth.
You can reduce these risks by packing meat and still fully benefit from the ice.
Tips for Storing Deer Meat on Ice
The thing about storing venison on ice is you may be able to store it for one day or ten days, and it all comes down to the conditions you are working with.
The best method for storing venison on ice is in an insulated cooler with drainage.
Layer the bottom of the cooler with ice, then place your venison before applying another layer of ice on top of the venison.
This method of layering does 3 things.
- Keeps the venison off the bottom, so it doesn’t get waterlogged
- Covers the top of the venison to prevent it from drying out
- Keeps the venison at an even temperature all around
Another worthwhile option is vacuum-packing the venison before storing it on ice.
This will keep the venison at the right amount of water content and prevent the proteins from leaching out or the meat from drying out.
I mentioned the importance of draining and what happens if you don’t.
While the humidity surrounding the venison should be relatively high to match the moisture in the meat (75-80%), any higher and you risk the quality of the meat.
However, a worse scenario would be to have the meat sit in water, which would cause it to become waterlogged.
This is where draining the cooler is essential. If your cooler is outside, you could leave the plug open to drain continuously.
If your cooler is inside or in your garage, you will need to drain it frequently. The number of times you will need to drain and refill the ice is determined by the outside temperature and the rate of melt.
Type of Ice
You can avoid most of this work by using dry ice. Its benefits far outweigh regular ice.
However, while you can easily make regular at home, dry ice usually needs to be purchased from the store.
One drawback of dry ice is that it gets much colder than regular ice and, in many cases, will freeze the venison.
This may not be an issue if you are past the rigor mortis stage and plan on moving the meat to a freezer, but it will be an issue if you are in the process of butchering.
Monitoring Deer Meat on Ice
I hope this article helps you to store your venison on ice properly and that you don’t need this section, but should things turn bad, here is how you identify it.
This also works for frozen deer meat.
The first thing you may notice is a strong, pungent odor; this will be particularly noticeable with venison more so than with beef or other store-bought meats.
Although many claim venison has a gamey smell etc., there should be no smell from the meat.
There are many times I’ve butchered up a rutting buck or wild hog and stank for days after, but all the scent is from the hide, and there will be little to no smell from the meat.
Color will be the next thing you notice. If the meat becomes waterlogged, as mentioned above, it will turn pale in color and will be acceptable to eat, albeit a little worse in quality.
If the meat turns dark or brown, it is a sign that it is turning sour and will usually be accompanied by the smell I mentioned above.
The texture of the venison will also begin to turn if it has been stored on ice for too long or the conditions weren’t adequate.
You may notice a slime beginning to appear on the outside. This may be hard to spot, particularly when stored on ice, as it’s a high-moisture environment.
However, if you wipe the venison with some paper towel, you should be able to spot it on meat gone bad.
I should point out here that venison has a layer of membrane that may look like slime, which is perfectly fine.
However, you usually remove this when butchering, so depending on the stage you are at with your venison, you may have this membrane, and it shouldn’t be confused with slime.
Safety Considerations for Storing Deer Meat on Ice
Whether you are storing the venison on ice during packout, butchering, aging, etc
The most important aspect is safety. Each of these scenarios can introduce the risk of contaminating your meat.
Your venison must be clean before storing it on ice. This is more of a risk when working in the field.
Using good practices such as quartering on a tarp or hide of the animal will go a long way towards the quality of the meat.
If you introduce dirt onto the ice, you risk creating favorable conditions for bacteria to grow.
The temperature must stay within 33-40F to ensure the venison’s longevity on ice and prevent bacteria from forming.
A significant difficulty in storing venison on ice is the possibility of rapid temperature changes.
You can reduce this risk by using an insulated cooler and storing it in a shaded or cool place.
Frequent temperature monitoring will allow you to adjust the conditions to prevent bacteria from growing and keep the meat from spoiling.