Is it a good idea to leave the hide on a deer and let it hang for several days before processing? Would it be better to skin it first? How would you then keep the outer layer from drying out?
Boy oh boy, this is a very good and a very controversial question, so I have to answer it according to the book... There are many old timers that have always aged their deer with the hide on - their reason was exactly what you had mentioned: it keeps the meat clean and keeps the outside of the carcass from drying out.
However, according to the USDA, you must remove the hide as quickly as possible after harvesting the animal. This will let the body moisture and heat evacuate from the animal quickly and decrease the cooling time.
The danger of allowing the hide to remain on the carcass is that all that body heat is trapped inside the hide - like wrapping it up in a winter coat. I always remove the hide as quickly as possible and let the body heat out, always remember that this body heat also contains that off-flavor that's associated with game meats. The trade off is a good one: take the hide off, deal with a little dryness and you will have much better meat.
Great question Bill and its a tough one, hope I helped.
"The Meat Man"