Hanging game is hugely important to developing the meat’s flavour, though the way we hang game now is much different to that of centuries before. In the olden days, poachers would dig a hole to help hide their catch, hanging it from a stick placed across the entrance. Due to a lack of refrigeration, as well as different tastes, the meat would be left to hang until it was extremely ripe. In the present day, we now do things much differently. We now prefer much more subtle flavours from our game, so we hang it for a shorter time as a result.
How Long Should Game be Hung for?
The reason that we hang game is in order to let the meat rest slightly. Birds use a surge of adrenaline to take off, and so if they are shot soon after take-off, they will be full of adrenaline. Leaving it to hang also lets the birds' tissue relax and rest. Depending on the bird, the temperature it is hung at and its age, as a rule of thumb, a bird should be left to hang for 2-4 days. A younger pheasant shot at 16 weeks, for instance, will have lovely and tender meat, but will still need to be hung for the flavour to develop. Lee Maycock, the national chairman of the Craft Guild of Chefs, also maintains that pheasant and partridge both need at least two days of hanging before being cooked, regardless of any other factors.
At What Temperature Should a Bird be Hung?
Temperature is a key factor which affects how long your game should be hung for. September until November is now an increasingly warm time of year, and so you may need to find a cooler place to hang your meat. Above 15°C, the meat is significantly at risk of growing potentially harmful bacteria, and so it is advised that your meat is always stored below this temperature. Game to Eat recommends hanging birds for 5-7 days at a temperature of 5°C, though this should be shortened if the temperature is warmer. Meanwhile, food safety experts say that pheasant should be hung for no longer than a week; ideally for three days at 4°C. Don’t be afraid to experiment slightly and hang birds for different lengths of time to find the optimum development time for your taste.
Additional Tips for Game Hanging
Separate your shot birds – separate your birds as soon as they have been shot, as in a pile of shot birds, the temperature can build up very quickly. Lay them breast up so that they cool rapidly. At the end of the drive, you should get them to the game cart and then the chiller as quickly as you can, especially on a warmer day. Mauled birds – those shot in the gut or mauled by a gundog should not be hung, but instead used as soon as possible to make a stock or a game pie. Hang at least six inches apart – the meat should not touch. If it does, the meat will sweat and turn green! Hang the game by its neck – this is the easiest way to prevent pooled fluids from ruining the breast meat. For safe and hygienic hanging, use a game safe - a brilliant invention to keep flies and predators away when hanging your game.
Enjoy your shoot – while hoping to score plenty of game to take home is one of the main goals of a shoot, the main objective is to have fun and enjoy the occasion. Make sure you’re fully kitted out for a top shootwith our leather cartridge belts, which leave you ready to pull off your next great shot. To ensure you look the part this season, head over to our blog to discover this year's best shooting jackets or find out how to prepare game meat for the freezer so you can enjoy it at a later date!
Image: Holiday Gems, available under Creative Commons