Often hunters want to know if bucks taste worse during the rut. It makes sense that while they are all riled up that the testosterone and other hormones would have some effect, and they do. Although, is it really such a difference from what that same buck would taste like in September rather than November? Well after doing some digging, I have finally found an answer.
While hormones like testosterone are known to affect the taste of meat, the primary factor is the age and maturity of the animal. If properly prepared, a rutting buck will taste fine. Although, it will never taste as good as a 2-year-old doe. The effect of testosterone is life-long for bucks and not unique during the rut.
So in short, no. If you are doing things right, a rutting buck should taste like a non-rutting buck. What does it mean to “do things right”? Well, let’s find out.
Rutting vs Non-Rutting Meat
So the question is if you shot the same exact deer in September as you did in November, would it taste the same? I would have to say yes. There should never be a foul taste or smell from any of the meat. The only thing that could happen is that it will be a little tougher.
We all should expect mature bucks to be tough anyway. Testosterone is responsible for most of this texture, but it is a lifelong effect. That is the reason that the cattle industry castrates steers and butchers them at a young age.
Testosterone makes the meat of an animal have higher pH levels. The high pH of the meat can have some negative effects. For example, high pH leads to tougher meat, less marbling, and overall a lesser grade of meat. Testosterone will also make animals grow larger than they otherwise would be.
It is explained well in this article, but the big idea is that if you have the same breed of cattle, a non-castrated bull will be large, muscular, tough, and overall have lower-quality meat. A castrated steer will have a lower meat pH. Therefore he will be more tender, have more marbling, and he will not be as big. Which is very similar to a cow or heifer.
That’s why I say testosterone has life-long effects. If that same buck was castrated at a young age, he would taste like a doe. So it does not matter if you shoot that buck while he is rutting, or not. He is going to taste the same way, as long as you prepare your meat correctly.
Now if I had to guess, it is the people that are not preparing their deer meat correctly that blame the bad taste on the rut. So I am going to go through a brief step-by-step guide on how to prepare your meat, and then what you can do with tough buck meat in the kitchen. If you want to see a more in-depth guide, read my “Why does deer meat taste gamey” article.
Properly Caring for Meat
The first thing to consider is what kind of deer you are going to shoot. If you want the best tasting deer possible, you want a young doe. If you are hunting big bucks, then I hope you shoot a big buck, but he’s going to be tough.
After you get a deer on the ground, you need to make sure you retrieve it within an hour. Whitetail can be dangerous, especially rutting bucks. So give them time to die. Allow at least 30 minutes to pass after the shot and then try to retrieve it around 45 minutes after.
Then you need to take your knife and remove the tarsal glands while the deer is on the ground. I couldn’t tell you the exact reason I do this, but it is just how we have always done it. It’s better for the meat, and those tarsals are a great attractant for later hunts.
Then you need to get the deer hung and quarter it up with your favorite skinning knife. I just released a review of some of my most used knives if you need a new one. If you want to be super clean, I recommend using a different knife for skinning than you do for removing the tarsals and gutting. It will just keep all of that bacteria off your meat.
Once you have your deer quartered up the way you like it, it needs to go on ice in a cooler. It is very important that your cooler has a drain plug. The ice will melt, and we do not want our meat sitting in that water. It will grow all sorts of bad bacteria that will make your meat taste awful.
When you get home, place the cooler on a slight incline with the drain plug at the bottom of the incline. You then should let the meat age for 3 – 7 days. Personally, I do 7. This is going to allow good bacteria to break down the meat and make it more tender than it would be before. Plus, it drains a lot of blood out and gets rid of any “gamey” taste.
Options for Butchering
After you have aged it for 7 days, you need to butcher it into edible portions. You can make all sorts of things out of it, but we mostly make cubed steak. This is just one more step that makes the meat so much more tender. Although, if you think your meat is going to be tough, you can make ground venison. However, you will need to add in beef or pork fat to make it stick together like hamburger meat.
After you get it butchered, whatever you do not plan on eating right away, you need to freeze. You are going to need some freezer bags, and ideally a vacuum sealer. I have an entire article outlining the freezing process and how long it can stay frozen that you can read here.
So in the end, if your rutting buck tastes horrible, it’s you, not him. He may be tough, but he should still taste okay. If you want a deer for eating, then I suggest getting a younger doe. No matter the deer, you need to prepare it properly in the field and in the kitchen. Quarter it soon after harvesting, age it on ice with an open drain plug for 7 days, and then butcher it. Preservation after butchering is also important. If done improperly, it can also make your meat taste bad.
A sister post is just an article that I think you would like after reading this one. So check out my article about Why Whitetails Taste Gamey Here
Thank you for reading my article about rutting bucks. I hope you enjoyed it and learned something you didn’t already know. If you like my content, subscribe to my weekly update. If you have any other questions about caring for wild meat, or just want to connect, feel free to email me at Patrick.Long@omegaoutdoors.net.