You’ve just got your deer meat out of the fridge, and suddenly wonder: “how do you know if deer meat is bad to use?”

Today, we’ll show you 4 easy ways to detect spoiled meat and avoid poisoning.

So keep reading:

How To Tell If Deer Meat Is Spoiled (4 Easy Ways):

Apart from scientific methods and lab equipment, you only need your senses to do this.

There are 4 primary methods to consider:

  • Appearance
  • Feel (of the venison’s texture)
  • Smell
  • Timing (The period between when the deer was killed, gutted, and stored in the freezer)

But first: Fresh vs Spoiled Meat

fresh deer meat

Fresh deer meat

Keep in mind, a fresh slab of meat has a dark-red appearance, has a strong, coppery smell, and smooth surface where you can feel the tight fibers and tendons.

Anything else is spoiled.

For your convenience, here’s a chart of what to look for, considering the aforementioned factors.






Green, brown, black

Watery, slimy

Pungent, strong


Brown, gray, green

Soft, mushy, and watery

Sour, artificial smell, fermented grapes


Grayish brown

Leathery, clumps of frost

Pungent, strong, artificial smell

1. The Colors of The Venison:

Whether it’s a fresh slab of venison, ground, frozen, or packaged, the first indicator is how it looks.

Pay close attention to the color, as it can change because of how the meat reacts with oxygen, as well as the frozen air in your storage/freezer.

Slab Venison

slab venison color bad meat 2


Fresh deer meat has a deep red color. However, if it’s green or brownish, then there may be signs of spoilage.

Besides having a brownish hue, spoiled meat also has a damp, metallic sheen to it.

This can be problematic, because some fresh slabs of deer meat have a specific shine which comes from the muscle structure and tendons, so be careful when deciding.

slab venison color bad meat


Notice the slight greening on the surfaces of the venison. Source

Ground Venison

If your meat is grounded, you need to cut it up in multiple chunks and carefully look inside.

If it’s brownish, gray, or green, then it’s spoiled.

Frozen Venison

Once you thaw your frozen meat, it should have a brownish, dark-red color on the surface.

If the color is just starting to go dark green, or dark brown, then the meat is beginning to go bad.

Sometimes, there are cases when hunters notice white, and even orange patches in the meat, and this is when bacteria or molds start to grow.

You should immediately discard the meat once this happens.

One exception:

However, most cooks and hunters ‘dry-age’ their meat in a carefully controlled environment. If this is the case, then it’s normal to see odd discoloration after weeks or months.

2. The Touch Of The Venison:

The Touch Of The Venison

The second indicator to tell if your venison is fresh or rotten, is via touch and feel of the surface and muscle.

This requires a skilled and experienced hand, as you’ll need lots of experience to know how venison should ‘feel’ like.

Slab Venison

Aside from how much blood has leaked, fresh deer meat feels slightly damp, but firm to the touch.

Deer meat usually leaks out blood and water at or above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can feel that the tendons and muscles are slightly leathery and flexible.

Deer meat that has begun to spoil feels slippery, soggy, and slimy to the touch.

Ground Venison

Ground venison can also be assessed via touch, and it can also feel soggy and slimy much like steak cuts of venison.

If the ground meat is spoiled, it has a loose texture, and the clumps can break apart very easily.

Frozen Venison

On the other hand, if the venison is frozen, then it’s very difficult to tell via touch if your deer meat has gone bad.

So what now?

Before you begin cooking, simply thaw the venison and see if the texture feels damp, but not slippery to the touch.

3. The Smell Of The Venison:

The Smell Of The Venison

The third method to analyze venison by using your senses is, of course, smell.

How Fresh Deer Meat Smells Like?

Fresh venison has a distinct, gamey smell with a slight, earthy hint. Some even report a sweet smell which greatly differs from beef.

Arguably, fresh deer meat will also smell like metal, and that’s exclusively because of the blood on the surface.

How Spoiled Deer Meat Smells Like?

Most people would definitely notice if the meat is spoiled by the strong, fermented, and bitter smell.

Therefore, if your venison has a pungent odor that can immediately repulse you, there is a chance that it’s gone bad.

Slab Venison

Rotten deer meat is definitely easy to spot by smelling it.

You can immediately notice the revolting odor of a sewage-like smell. So, be sure to open all windows and air out the room once you notice the smell.

The strong odor comes from the bacteria that have had the chance to cultivate and produce compounds that change the smell, color, and even the texture.

Even if you try to cook it, the sewage-like odor will become even more intense. This is why the smelling method is probably the most important one of all four.

Ground Venison

Ground venison smell is very similar to the one from a freshly-cut venison slab, only it’s more pungent and sour.

Some report that it’s similar to the smell of fermenting grapes or wine.

Frozen Venison

Frozen venison barely releases odors, so you need to defrost it beforehand.

The smell will be more noticeable as the meat unfreezes.

How to Detect Bad Deer Meat When Cooking?

If you’re not used to cooking game meat, don’t be alarmed if your venison smells gamey and earthy as you cook it.

How Does Fresh Deer Meat Look Like After It’s Cooked?

Deer meat is famous for absorbing the flavors it’s cooked with much faster and easier when compared to beef.

Cooked venison is leaner, so it has no problem combining the ingredients, herbs, and butter.

Fresh venison has a dense and lean meat when cooked, but most people are off-put by the smell, and they immediately mistake it for spoiled meat.

How Does Rotten Venison Smell After It’s Cooked?

Rotten venison is very easy to spot once you begin cooking it. It’ll smell bitter and sour, and oftentimes will have a sewer-like smell.

If you happen to notice the smell, you’ll need to promptly get rid of it and thoroughly clean your cooking instruments and surfaces.

That’s why it’s crucial that you first tick off all 4 methods of analysis before you even prepare to cook your deer meat.

4. The Storage Period of Venison:

The Storage Period of Venison

The time span between hunting, storing, and cooking the venison is a very important factor to consider for keeping your meat fresh and avoiding spoilage.

When the Deer Was Killed?

Firstly, you will need to pay attention to when the deer was killed, cut, and stored.

To achieve optimal freshness of your venison, once you kill your deer, it’s important to cut and store the meat in the freezer as soon as you can.

Otherwise, the weather will hasten the factors that render the meat to spoil and become a breeding ground for bacteria and parasites.

Hot and Humid

If the weather is hot and humid, you must act fast to store the deer in the freezer.

Deer carcass should not be put away at temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so be careful.

Cold and Dry

You can leave a deer carcass out in the open a bit longer when the weather is cold and dry, right before cutting the meat. However, it’s highly advisable to act fast.

Keep in mind, after the kill, your deer meat can last for a short period of time before it spoils.

How long can it last?

This depends on a number of factors:

  • How the deer was killed
  • Which organs were punctured
  • How fast the animal will be cleaned, sectioned, and gutted.

Once the meat spoils, you will promptly need to throw the meat away.

So How Long Does It Take Deer Meat to Spoil?

In most cases, you only have 3-6 hours to cut and prepare the deer for the freezer, and only when the air temperature is around 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The carcass should be held at 40° degrees Fahrenheit or less, no longer than two weeks. Warmer temperatures shorten this time span.

You’d better leave them if you pass through such a long period.

How Long the Venison Has Been Stored?

Secondly, you need to consider how long you’ve stored your meat before cooking it.

But note that deer meat usually begins to spoil if your storing period is longer than below recommendation. And you’d better throw it away.

Full Carcass

A full carcass that has been stored in optimally low temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the freezer will last for 3-4 days.

You can store or hang a gutted and cleaned deer carcass in the freezer for approximately 3 weeks.

Fresh Slabs of Venison

On the other hand, fresh slabs of venison last a little bit longer than a deer carcass.

They are properly packed and stored in the freezer and can last for about 9 to 12 months.

Ground Venison

Ground venison can be stored in the freezer for approximately 3 months.

It’s important to note that ground venison should be stored in a freezer at 0°F (-17°C) or below.

Cooked Venison

As for cooked or roasted venison, it’s safe to store it for 6 to 9 months at 0°F.

Now What?

Next time, if you doubt: “How do you know if deer meat is bad/spoiled?”, then remember:

  • Take a closer look and try to find any green, gray, or brownish discoloration
  • Smell the meat
  • Touch the meat and see if it feels mushy or slimy.

I hope this guide helps you in identifying the main factors that may spoil your meat.

Once you spot ANY indication of a spoiled venison section, it’s imperative that you throw your meat away.

Once again, pay attention to your freezer’s temperature, and your deer meat will be fine.

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About the Author

Hi, I'm Robert Gate, a hunter from Texas and Founder of ArcheryTopic.

I first learned archery from my dad when I was 12 years old. He gave me a Mathew bow as a gift and instantly fell in love with the pursuit.