You get your deer yet? A few residents have, but a good many more, as well as all the nonresidents who graciously bring money to our state, have yet to bag their buck or doe this season.

A successful hunt will bring satisfaction, delight and quite possibly relief to the proud hunter. But the real prizes – steaks, chops, roast and burger – will be enjoyed for weeks and months to come, and how much you enjoy them can depend on the steps you take immediately after the shot.

The first step is recovering the animal, which is a lot easier if you watched it drop. If not, you’ve got to decide how soon to take up the trail. In general, the sooner the better. You want to recover it before predators, scavengers or (though it should never happen) other hunters find it, or rain or snow obscure the blood trail.

But if you’ve made a questionable shot, you may want to wait a bit. A mortally wounded deer often will lie down nearby, and following up too soon only will push it farther away, making it harder to find. If it’s dead, it’s not going anywhere. If it isn’t, you only decrease your chan-ces of recovery by following too soon.

The primary reason you want to recover it quickly is to field dress it (the details of which could take an entire column). Opening up and emptying the contents of the body cavity significantly reduces the chance of spoilage. Bacteria thrive in a warm, moist environment. Punctured organs or excessive blood could taint the meat, and you want to cool the carcass as soon as possible. You may also want to prop the chest cavity open with a stick, particularly if it’s warm outside.

Once you’ve accomplished that, you need to get the animal out of the woods. How you do that may depend on how far off a road or trail it is. The simplest, though not necessarily the easiest, is to drag it. It should go without saying, but drag your deer head-first. Try to keep on dry ground, and if at all possible, don’t drag it through streams or standing water. Both are reservoirs of bacteria that could taint the meat. If you plan on mounting the deer, you may also want to keep the head and chest elevated. Dragging will pull hair and eventually create bald spots on the hide. If you can get it out by vehicle or on a cart or sled, all the better.

After you’ve registered your deer, it’s time to decide how you’ll go about preparing it for consumption. The simplest way is taking it to a processor and letting them do the rest, but that’s no fun. I have no qualms with those who lack the time, ways or means to do it, but I prefer to process my own venison, when the time is right.

How to hang your deer is one of those perennially debated topics. Most folks hang them head-down. If nothing else, this makes them much easier to skin and butcher. I’ve heard people say it’s better to hang them head up so the blood will drain, but by the time you get to hanging your deer, there shouldn’t be any blood left unless you’ve done something wrong.

An even more frequently debated subject is how long to hang your deer. Opinions vary, but if you research the process of aging game like venison you will find some common guidelines. In general, the longer you hang your deer the better, as long as it’s under optimal conditions. Those include constant temperatures somewhere in the neighborhood of 35-40 degrees. This allows the meat to “age,” enhancing flavor and improving tenderness. Below-freezing nights and cool days are acceptable, but the more temps get above 40, the sooner you should cut your deer up.

How you go about that is another subject worthy of an entire column. If you’ve done it before, you already know. If not, seek the assistance of an experienced friend. The work goes more quickly and it’s a lot more fun doing it as a group anyway. While you’re skinning, boning and wrapping meat, you can recount tales of past hunts, debate calibers and bullet types and scheme for next year – all part of the seasoning that makes your venison more flavorful.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]