Hunting Season 2022: How Much Storage Space Will I Need?

How terrible would it be to bring home an animal only to realize you don’t have the right place to process and age the meat? Proper meat and game storage space is essential for a successful season. Hunters, by necessity, are planners. It takes logistical knowledge to get tags, organize the trip, and execute the kill. But proper planning for the back end of hunting, that of meat storage, is just as important as planning for the hunt itself.

Why is Proper Cold Storage Important?

Once you are back to your house, there are many benefits to properly aging the meat in a temperature-controlled environment. Temperatures in the high 30s are best for meat aging. If the meat freezes, the biological processes that cause aging stop. If temperatures are much above 40F the meat will spoil.

hunting storage space
A mobile meat cooler trailer keeps meat at an ideal temperature during transport.

Good Game and Meat Storage Space Prevents Bacterial Growth

An obvious reason for proper cold storage is that it prevents harmful bacteria from destroying an animal’s meat. There are two ways to preserve meat; aging and curing. Here, we will focus on aging.

At temperatures above 40F, bacteria will proliferate in the meat causing it to spoil. No one wants that! In small amounts, bacteria simply diminish the meat’s taste. In large amounts, however, meat-spoiling bacteria can make people very sick.

While temperatures are typically cool enough in late-season hunts to prevent surprise spoilage, early-season hunts pose difficulties. If daytime temperatures are much above 40F, hunters should consider storing their meat in a cooler to age. If you hunt large mammals, such as deer, refrigerators won’t provide enough space to properly age an entire animal.

meat hanging

Ample Game and Meat Storage Space Makes Meat More Tender

Its best to hang carcasses for 3-5 days after dressing the carcass in the field. Hanging the carcass allows extra blood to drain out of the meat, which improves the flavor. In addition to blood, the meat loses water through evaporation. While this evaporation will make your yield smaller, it will cause your meat to cook and taste better. A few days of hanging time also gives enzymes in the meat a chance to break down undesirable compounds.

Lastly, leaving the meat intact for a few days also gives time for rigor mortis to pass. Rigor mortis is the stiffening of muscles once an animal dies. If a hunter cuts the meat away from the bones during rigor mortis, the hunter will cut through more muscle fibers. This results in less tender, more gamey meat. If allowed to age all the way past rigor mortis, the hunter won’t cut as many muscle fibers when processing the carcass. This means the meat will be more tender and of higher quality.

Ideally, whole carcasses of wild game hang upside down in a cooler for 3-5 days before cutting and packaging.

hunting storage space

Hanging Animals Takes Up Space

Unfortunately, properly aging meat takes up a significant amount of space. If you can use a shady, outside area or a garage, that certainly makes things easier. But most places don’t naturally have the perfect conditions for meat aging. If you live in a place with challenging weather, creating a low-cost walk-in cooler is the best option for aging your wild meat.

When deciding how much hunting storage space your meat cooler needs, you must decide between tradeoffs. If you make the cooler bigger than you need, you will use a exces materials. This will drive up the cost. If your cooler isn’t big enough to accommodate your future hunting ambitions, you will need to figure out what to do with the meat that doesn’t fit in the cooler.

One Coolbot customer uses a 10x10x10 walk-in cooler to age about 20 deer at a time. For most hunters, a 4x4x7 space should be large enough. This allows enough space for a couple of carcasses to hang at the same time, while still allowing for a person to maneuver around and ensuring enough airflow. 

Thankfully, once the meat is fully processed and packaged, it takes up much less space. About 35 pounds of fully processed meat fits into one cubic foot of freezer space.

Nick Duncombe, a Wyoming hunter, created this aging cooler for his meat.

The Advantages of Aging Meat in a Walk-In Cooler

Walk-in coolers have benefits compared to aging meat outdoors or in a refrigerator. The temperature is more stable, which leads to better tasting meat. Additionally, humidity is more controlled because the door isn’t being opened and closed all the time. Consistent humidity around 80% is ideal for meat aging, and walk-in coolers often naturally achieve this humidity zone.

Meat needs good airflow to properly age. For this reason, you don’t want to pack too many animals into too small of a space.

If you plan to process many wild animals, it would probably be worth installing a drain in the lowest point of your cooler. If you do install a drain in your cooler, use the smallest drain possible for your space and make sure that it has an airtight plug.  Cold air sinks and you don’t want it to escape down your drain. A drain makes disposing of any fluids that drip from the carcass easier to dispose of. A cheaper option is to simply put a large bucket beneath the carcass.

We hope you have a successful hunting season in 2022 and that you learned something about how to create the best hunting storage space for wild game from this post!

Featured image from Matt Aderhold’s Meat Silo. 

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