How Big of a Cooler Do You Need to Fit a Deer?

One of the essential parts of successful hunting is having a cooler big enough to fit whatever you shoot. If you are concerned that you won’t be able to fit a deer in your cooler, you are probably right. So how big of a cooler do you need?

A 65-quart cooler will fit most deer bone-in with some space left over for ice. Anything smaller will probably be short on space. The deer will be easier to transport if it is quartered beforehand and doing so will allow the deer to be split into two 40-quart coolers.

Let’s take a look at how to prepare to keep a deer cool.

Cooling Meat

One of the many considerations that you need to make before you go on a hunting expedition is how you will store any meat that you bag. The freshly caught game will go bad quickly if it is kept warm. The bacteria inside of the animal that you shoot will cause the animal to decay within a couple of hours of you shooting it, so you will have to act fast.

The general guideline for how long a deer carcass can go before spoiling is 12 hours. If the day is hot and humid, however, you might not even have that long. On the other hand, if it is dry and very cold, you might have as long as 24 hours before you need to put the deer into a cooler or a freezer. Try to play on the safe side, as deer meat that is kept too warm will spoil the taste quickly.

In addition to keeping a deer in the cooler, you also need to ensure that the cooler is cold enough to keep bacteria from continuing to spoil the meat. Meat has to be cooled down to below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) in order to stop bacteria from spreading. Any warmer than that and you could risk losing your entire catch to bacteria.

If you are going hunting within a few hours’ drive of your house, you should be able to bag an animal and ship it home before it begins to spoil. As long as it reaches a freezer within a few hours, there shouldn’t be any problem.

However, if you are going hunting out of state or if you won’t have easy access to a freezer for a while after you catch your game, you are going to need an ice-packed cooler in order to maintain a low temperature for the deer meat.

Cooler Sizes

A good cooler for storing game will need plenty of space for both a deer and ice. Depending on the size of the deer that you bag and depending on how you prepare it, you may need as much as 70 or 80 quarts of storage in your cooler. However, the majority of deer that you catch will only need a 65-quart cooler, even when you leave bones in. (Source)

Most deer hunters that have experienced cooling their meat recommend that you have a 65-quart cooler and two bags of ice (or milk cartons full of ice) to cool down your deer. This amount of space should accommodate most deer bone-in. If the deer that you catch is particularly large, you can remove many of the bones in order to bring the carcass down to size.

In addition to the main cooler, many hunters also bring an extra cooler, just in case they need the bonus space. Thankfully, this second cooler can be a lot smaller and a lot less expensive, used only in the case when you have too much deer meat on your hands.

Be careful to examine the exact volume of a cooler before you bring it along, as some coolers that call themselves a 65-quart cooler are actually only large enough to fit 55-60 quarts of deer meat. There’s nothing worse than having to leave good meat behind just because you can’t fit it into the coolers that you brought along.

One final consideration that you will want to make in regards to your cooler is how long the cooler will insulate your meat. High-quality coolers can be trusted to keep the meat cool for over a week, while some of the cheaper options will only be good for 3 or 4 days. As long as you plan your hunting trip around keeping the meat cool, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Preparing the Deer

In order to have as much success as possible with your deer, you should take the time to prepare it before you store it in your cooler. In many cases, this will mean cutting up the deer and removing bones and organs in order to have space in your cooler for the entire deer.

Apart from removing the bones, you will also want to remove the deer hide from the meat before you put it into a cooler. The hide will take up unnecessary space and will act as an insulator, causing the meat to hold heat and potentially spoil. In order to avoid this, remove the hide from the deer and let it cool down before you put it into your cooler.

If you don’t let the meat cool down before you store it, the cooler might trap the heat inside and keep your meat from getting down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. You might think that you had done everything necessary in order to avoid spoiling your meat only to find out that your cooler did its job of insulating too well, leaving your deer at the wrong temperature.

If you do everything right in order to keep your deer in a cooler with sufficient space and ice, you will soon be able to reap the benefits of having caught a deer. Whether you take the carcass to a professional butcher or whether you cut the deer yourself, the effort that you make to keep the meat cool will provide you with plenty of meat for the months ahead.