How long can you leave a deer it the woods before it spoils?
QUESTION: I constantly see TV hunting shows where someone shoots a deer and then waits until the next day to find it. How long is the meat good when someone shoots the deer and finds it the next day? My belief is that once the heart stops, the blood is no longer circulating, which will create bacteria. I once waited just one hour field-dress a deer, and when I started to cut, the gases that came out where nauseating. That tells me that a deer lying for 12 hours in the woods would be inedible.
ANSWER: Good question. The answer is, as usual, it depends. You are right that bacterial growth begins immediately upon death. However, in order to thrive, bacteria need a moist, warm environment. So, temperature is a big factor. The colder it is, the longer you can wait to retrieve your deer without worrying too much about spoilage.
The type and location of wound also is a factor. The more tissue damage and internal bleeding, the greater the chance for bacterial growth. A pass-through with external bleeding means less blood pooling up in the body cavity.
Perhaps the worst case is a gut-shot deer. You need to leave it as long as possible before following up, or you risk losing it. I usually recommend 12 hours. However, the longer it lays, the higher the potential contamination, not to mention scavengers. In the end, you’re left with considering all the information you have and making the best call you can based on the temperature and the type of hit. — Recent Ask the Biologist Question:
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