If you‘re an avid hunter who fills your freezer with venison, elk, boar, and other wild game every season, you may wonder just how long that meat will stay fresh and safe to eat in the freezer. Properly frozen, game meat can stay edible for upwards of a year, but the quality does start to decline over time.
In this detailed guide, we‘ll cover everything you need to know about freezing game meat for optimal freshness and safety. You‘ll learn:
- The best practices for freezing different cuts of game
- How long each type of meat will last frozen
- The signs of spoiled, freezer-burned meat to watch out for
- Tips for refreezing thawed game meat
- How to freeze things like organs, bones, and hides
Freezing is the key to enjoying delicious wild game all year long. Let‘s dive in and learn how to make your harvest last in the freezer!
Storing Game Meat in the Freezer – Quick Overview
Before we get into the nitty gritty details, here‘s a quick reference for approximately how long you can freeze common cuts of wild game if packaged correctly and kept constantly at 0°F in the freezer:
|Meat Type||Freezer Life|
|Ground Meat||3-4 months|
|Whole Birds||9-12 months|
Venison and other large game lasts a bit longer than small game birds and mammals overall when frozen properly. Now let‘s look at how to maximize freezer life for each type of cut.
Field Care: First Steps for Freezing Game Meat
Freezing starts in the field. Taking steps as soon as you harvest your game animal will help ensure you‘re freezing the highest quality meat:
- Field dress promptly – Remove entrails and internal organs shortly after killing an animal. This helps the carcass cool faster.
- Use cheesecloth bags – Cover any exposed flesh like neck openings to protect from dirt and debris.
- Keep meat cool – Hang deer, elk, and other large game with hides on initially for insulation. Use ice, refrigeration, or other cooling methods before processing.
- Age meat – Hang large game 7-10 days at 34-38°F to tenderize through enzymes before cutting.
Proper field dressing and temperature control gives you the best starting material to freeze for long-term storage.
Cutting & Packaging Game Meat for Freezing
Once you‘re ready to start processing your harvest, follow these steps for preparing it for the freezer:
- Trim – Remove any dried, dirty, bloody portions from meat before cutting. Discard any damaged or questionable pieces.
- Portion – Cut game meat into usable roasts, steaks, chops, ground meat, etc.
- Grind – Put all edible meat scraps and trimmings into ground meat.
- Package – Seal in freezer-safe plastic bags, vacuum bags, or containers. Remove air.
- Label – Mark packages with cut, species, and date.
Vacuum sealing or heavy-duty freezer bags help prevent freezer burn by protecting meat from exposure to air. Taking the time to properly package each piece streamlines storage and use later.
Freezing Methods for Game Meat
Use these steps for the actual freezing process:
- Quick freeze – Arrange meat in single layer on trays and freeze initially for quicker freezing.
- Consolidate – Once firm, pack together bags and containers to save freezer space.
- Maintain 0°F – Use a thermometer to monitor your freezer temperature. Adjust as needed.
- Limit openings – Avoid opening the freezer frequently to keep the temperature stable.
Freezing cut pieces on trays first helps them freeze evenly and solidly before packing together in your freezer. Keeping the temperature consistently at 0°F or below is also key for safely preserving game as long as possible.
Thawing & Safe Handling of Frozen Game
When you‘re ready to cook that frozen venison roast or pheasant, thaw it safely using one of these methods:
- Refrigerator – Thaw overnight in the fridge for larger cuts or 1-2 days for whole birds.
- Cold water – Submerge vacuum sealed packages in cold water, changing water every 30 mins.
- Microwave – Use the defrost function and cook immediately after thawing.
Always cook game meat to the minimum safe internal temperature, measured with a meat thermometer:
- Game meat (venison, moose, etc.) – 160°F
- Game birds (duck, goose) – 165°F
Discard any meat that looks or smells off while thawing – do not taste it. Refreezing thawed raw game meat is safe but will lower the quality over time.
How Long Does Frozen Game Meat Last?
Now let‘s take a detailed look at the freezer life for specific cuts and types of wild game when properly packaged and frozen at 0°F.
Ground Game Meat
Ground meat from venison, moose, boar, and other game keeps well frozen for 3-4 months for the best quality. Grinding exposes more surface area to air and potential ice crystal formation over time.
You can stretch ground meat to 6 months maximum in the freezer if it was processed and packaged exceptionally well. Any darkened or dried out areas likely means it‘s past its prime. Re-grind and use frozen meat ground more than 4 months ago soon.
Steaks & Chops
Venison steaks, moose chops, and other thick game meat cuts maintain quality frozen for:
- 6-9 months for venison, moose, elk steaks/chops
- 6-12 months for boar chops and small game like rabbit and squirrel.
The freezer life varies based on the thickness – thin steaks or chops should be used sooner, while thicker cuts last longer. Boar meat also freezes a bit better than leaner venison and moose meat. Vacuum seal or wrap steaks well to prevent freezer burn.
Roasts & Large Cuts
For larger servings like roasts and bone-in pieces:
- 9-12 months for venison and elk roasts
- 6-12 months for large boar cuts or whole rabbits
Keep bone-in roasts closer to 9 months for optimal quality and flavor. Well-packaged, boneless venison or elk roasts can go the full year frozen before drying out. Larger, thicker cuts generally hold up better to freezing than smaller, thinner ones.
Whole Birds & Small Game
Whole wild birds and small mammals generally last frozen for:
- 9-12 months for whole ducks, geese, pheasants
- 6-12 months for whole rabbits, squirrels
The giblets and organs from birds should be used within 3-6 months. Handle small game similarly to poultry when packaging – wrap whole bodies tightly then pack together after freezing.
Whole muscles keep longer than separate pieces. Monitor poultry parts like breasts or quarters at 6-9 months max when frozen alone.
Sausage, Jerky & Processed Meats
For processed wild game, freezer life varies from fresh cuts:
- Raw sausage & smoked meats – 1-2 months
- Cooked smoked and cured meats – 3-6 months
- Jerky – 6-12 months
Follow your processor‘s or recipe‘s storage times for smoked game products. The salts, smoking, and drying used helps extend the shelf life but quality still diminishes over time. Keep all processed meats frozen until ready to thaw and eat.
What To Look For – Signs of Spoiled Frozen Game
Always inspect packages of frozen game carefully before defrosting. Discard any meat that shows these signs of spoilage:
- Ice crystals inside packaging
- Unnatural color – gray, brown
- Dry, brown freezer burn
- "Off" odors when opened
- Slime or stickiness
- Mold growth
The textures and smells of spoiled meat will be distinctly unappealing. When in doubt, throw it out! Don‘t risk getting sick from bad bacteria that grew in meat stored too long.
Tips for Refreezing Thawed Game Meat
You can safely refreeze thawed raw game meat, but it may impact the texture and moisture content. Only refreeze meat that has been:
- Thawed slowly, over 1-2 days in the refrigerator
- Kept no more than 2 days in the fridge before refreezing
- Refrozen at 0°F immediately if not being cooked
- Refrozen raw no more than once
When ready to use refrozen meat, thaw it again in the fridge before cooking within the next 3-4 months. Cooked, frozen game meat can go through more freeze-thaw cycles with less quality loss. Reheat fully when thawing cooked game a second time.
Storing Other Game Parts in the Freezer
Along with fresh meat cuts, you can freeze other animal parts for long-term storage:
- Organs – Heart, liver, kidneys keep 3-6 months tightly wrapped.
- Rendered fat – Seal tallow and lard for 6-12 months frozen.
- Bones – Store bones up to 3-6 months for making stocks.
- Hides – Freeze until ready to thaw and tan.
Taking advantage of all the resources from your harvests helps make the most of your game meat. Now you know how long you can freeze those venison roasts, goose breasts, and elk sausage to keep enjoying delicious wild flavors!