How to Tell If Deer Meat is Bad

Venison is one of my favorite meats to serve. Its grassroots origins in modern-day hunting make cooking with venison feel like making a homemade dish from scratch.

However, when thinking to use freshly hunted venison, I can’t help but take a moment to pause.

For all its freshness, there’s a considerable risk of contamination from bacteria. I find myself worrying over whether my venison is truly fresh and safe to eat.

The signs of spoilage can be easy to miss, so it’s important to know how to check if venison has gone bad.

Additionally, the consequences of ingesting bad venison can transcend food poisoning and even result in death.

So, what are the key signs to watch for in assessing whether venison is spoiled? To start checking if your meat is still fresh, you’ll want to check the texture, color, and smell of the venison.  

One of the most optical signs of rotten venison is color; look for green, grey, and even black hues. Spoiled venison will also have a slimy texture and appear sopping wet. Smell is also a great way to detect bad deer meat, as metallic, bitter, or sour odors indicate spoilage. Even if frozen, venison can still carry signs of spoilage which include a loose texture and discoloration.

Continue reading to learn how to spot rotten venison as well as the safest ways to store your excess deer meat.

We’ll also discuss the process in which venison rots, so you can understand the best approach to preserving it.

For a quick reference, check out this table of the signs of spoilage in different types of venison:

Type of VenisonColorTextureSmellTaste
FreshGreen, Brown, BlackSlimy and water-loggedPungent and sewage-likeSour or metallic
GroundBrown, Gray, GreenMushy and waterySewage-like or sourTasteless or faintly bitter
FreezerGrayish BrownLeathery and patches of frostPungent and plastic-likeBitter and lacking flavor

How to Tell if Fresh Deer Meat Is Bad

To determine whether fresh venison has spoiled, assess texture, appearance, smell, and taste. Spoiled venison will not hold its structure and can have a green, brown, or black hue.

Another tell-tale sign of spoiled meat is an off-putting, sour odor. The strength of this odor can vary but a pungent or bitter scent means that the meat is rotten. To be safe, you should discard venison even if there is only a slight odor.

While you should check for the preceding signs thoroughly, mistakenly consuming spoiled venison can still happen. If you notice a metallic or bitter taste, discard the venison immediately.

How to Tell if Ground Deer Meat is Bad

Like steak cuts of venison, you can assess the color, smell, and texture of ground venison to check for spoilage. When ground deer meat is bad, it will have a loose, soggy texture and break apart easily.

Instead of being bright pink, spoiled ground deer meat will have a grey, green, or brown hue. So, if you see a deviation from light pink in the color of your venison, it’s best to discard the meat.

If ground meat is bad, it will also have a sour to sewage-like odor.  The smell of spoiled ground venison isn’t always strong. So, if you notice even a slight variation in scent, it’s safest to assume that the deer meat is bad.

How to Tell if Frozen Venison is Bad

While the decomposition process looks a bit different for previously frozen venison, there are still key signs to watch for. If you notice discoloration or a loose, watery texture upon thawing, it’s safest to discard the meat.

Frozen Deer Meat

Smell will be less obvious at this stage but will still be present once you start cooking. If you notice a pungent, rotten scent, it’s safe to say the meat is spoiled.

A strong, plastic-like odor also indicates freezer burn and should result in discarding the meat.

Signs of freezer burn are also reasons to throw venison away, as it results from meat being improperly sealed.

Since freezer burn is a result of inadequate packaging, it suggests moisture penetrated the meat, causing it to spoil.

The onset of freezer burn will cause the meat to be leathery in texture and create a grayish-brown hue.

Does Texture and Color Indicate Freshness?

Fresh deer meat is bright red, like a beefsteak, and it has a taut and bouncy texture. When venison is fresh, it will have a damp surface, but it will not be slimy or overly wet.  

Slimy or water-saturated meat is an indication of spoilage, and the meat should be discarded immediately.

Also, if any type of venison is brown, green, black, or grey, it is an indication that it has gone bad.

What Does Spoiled Deer Meat Smell Like?

Whether it’s faint or overpowering, spoiled deer meat will emit a metallic or sewage-like scent.

Even if you take it out of the fridge and it smells fine, there is still a chance the venison is spoiled.

If you notice this scent develops while cooking, it means the meat is rancid. Heat exacerbates the scent of rotten meat, so heed the scent of your dish while it’s in the oven.

What Does Fresh Deer Meat Smell Like?

When venison is fresh, it carries a light, gamey scent. There are even light notes of earthiness, minerals, and even sweetness.

The fresher the meat, the more its scent will even have a subtle, bloody smell. The reason fresh venison lacks an off-putting odor is because of the absence of bacteria.

Bacteria only start to grow as the meat begins spoiling, so a fresh scent indicates the meat is bacteria-free.

How Long Does It Take Deer Meat to Spoil?

The time it takes for venison to spoil depends on the storage temperature, moisture, weather, and conditions of the deer.

Continue reading to find out exactly how venison spoils and the best storage methods to thwart expiration.

What Causes Venison to Spoil?

Before it gets to your kitchen, venison runs the risk of spoiling if left in the field for too long.


Generally, there is a 3–6-hour window to retrieve recently killed deer and proceed with butchering.

Additionally, this window shortens if there is excess humidity or rain, as the harmful microorganisms on venison thrive in wet environments.

Once successfully cleaned, the venison is ready for refrigeration. It’s important to refrigerate immediately, as keeping venison in cold temperatures will prolong its shelf life.

Does Deer Meat Expire?

Yes! Eventually, venison will absolutely expire. The key to when depends on your method of storage.

Because venison is commonly obtained from hunting wild game, it is especially at risk of cultivating harmful bacteria if improperly stored.  

When a deer is alive, it carries pathogens like mold, bacteria, and fungi. While this is healthy for a living deer, these pathogens multiply exponentially once the deer is killed from body heat.

To learn more about the rate at which venison expires, check out this helpful chart derived from the NCHFP guidelines:

Outside45-55°F3-6 Hours
On the Counter65-75°F1-2 Hours
In the Fridge30-40°F5-7 Days
In the Freezer0°F3-9 Months

How Long Can Deer Meat Sit at Room Temperature?

How long venison lasts at room temperature largely depends on the state of the meat. If a deer is freshly killed, its meat can start to spoil within 3-6 hours at 50°F.

If you leave a cut of previously refrigerated venison on the counter, it can start to spoil quickly.

The key is to not let its internal temperature exceeds 40°F. As a rule of thumb, don’t leave a cut of deer meat on the counter for over 1.5 hours at 60-70°F.

What Happens if You Eat Spoiled Venison?

Because of the harmful bacteria venison can carry, consuming spoiled meat can cause severe food poisoning and even death.

Mild symptoms include stomach pain, nausea, and other gastrointestinal upset.

Because spoiled venison can potentially carry salmonella and Escherichia coli, death is a possible – though rare – outcome.

Can You Eat Venison When Pregnant?

While venison is considered generally safe to eat while pregnant, there are a few important factors to consider.

Before consuming venison – or any meat – while pregnant, you must make sure it is fresh and cooked well.

If you’re still a bit squeamish about eating venison while pregnant, check out this article to answer all your concerns.

Additionally, there are many great alternatives to venison if you decide to avoid it altogether.

How Long is Deer Meat Good in the Fridge?

For best results, keep venison from 5-7 days at 35°F in the fridge. Sometimes, juices can leak from stored venison, potentially causing cross-contamination with other foods. So, try to keep it on the bottom shelf in an airtight bag.

Does Deer Meat Go Bad in the Freezer?

Considering the many factors that contribute to the rate at which venison spoils, frozen venison keeps anywhere from 3-9 months.

Additionally, it’s important to make sure your freezer is cold enough, 0°F, to properly store venison.

If you vacuum-seal your cuts of venison, some say it can even last up to 3 years! However, the USDA sets 3-9 months as a guideline for safe consumption.

How to Properly Freeze Deer Meat

While there are many ways to freeze venison, the most common is using a vacuum sealer and a deep freezer.

Additionally, you’ll need Kraft paper, plastic wrap, vacuum sealer bags, and a vacuum sealer.

The following steps will show you an effective, sworn-by method of keeping venison ready to go without freezer burn:

  1. To avoid cross-contamination, cover all surfaces with Kraft paper. The paper’s plastic coating will prevent juices from seeping onto the countertop and keep the mess contained.
  2. Take a cut of venison, or a portion of ground venison, and cover with plastic wrap. Before sealing off the wrap, try squeezing out as much air as possible. Once this is achieved, take a second sheet of plastic wrap, and repeat the step.
  3. Next, cut a vacuum sealer bag for the wrapped meat. Seal one end first and then insert the meat. Once inside, seal the open end of the bag.
  4. Now, your meat is ready for the freezer!

To find more ways to effectively freeze venison, check out these helpful tips!

Best Venison Recipes

For this no-fuss roast, you’ll need about a 5 lb. venison roast, 23 grams of kosher salt, and 23 grams of sugar.

This proportion yields about 12 servings and takes approximately four hours, sometimes less, to cook.

Excluding the time set aside for marinating and cooking, this recipe takes about 20 minutes to prep.

  1. To start, marinate the venison in the salt and sugar combination for about four days. While the recipe calls for four days, I find it’s ready to go as soon as 24 hours. How long you wish to marinate your roast is up to your personal preference.
  2. Next, rinse the cut and set it on an uncovered rack in the fridge.
  3. To smoke, set the oven between 175-200°F and cook for about 3.5 hours. To measure cook time, use an internal thermometer. Once the deepest part of the cut reaches between 120-140°F, you’re ready to go.
  4. After setting for 10 minutes, your roast is ready to serve.

I like this recipe because of its minimal steps and ingredients. Since it uses bare-bones kitchen staples, I know I can rely on it even in a pinch.

Final Thoughts

It is important to spot the signs of venison starting to spoil to avoid illness. Make sure to thoroughly inspect your venison for signs of odor, discoloration, and unusual texture before eating.

By following these safety precautions, you can make indulging in venison a hassle-free event.

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