As some of you may know, I recently posted about harvesting my first deer just last week and how the whole experience was for me. One of the things that I didn’t cover was the diversity in whitetail hunter’s ethics and perspective(s) on what is considered wasteful and what is considered to be part of the normal refuse that is left behind. I personally find it troubling sometimes when walking upon another hunter’s left over discard/gut pile and seeing what they leave behind. You will see people leave behind pieces of meat that were perfectly fine or organs that are commonly eaten left to rot in the wild.
Many people will argue that these leftover “scraps” are for the vultures, raccoons, or coyote, and while this may be true, I find that these scavengers have plenty of food out in the most rural parts of the United States. I understand the want to give back to the ecosystem that you took from, but I also see the ethical perspective that you must use every usable part of the animal in which you harvested out of respect to the animal and its sacrifice.
I will state here that there is no “right way” in regards to what should/should not be discarded. Everyone has different perspectives and experiences so I will respect their opinions and differences in how they view the remnants of their harvest. I will state that within the United States many states do have laws in place to prevent people from intentionally killing/wounding an animal without any interest in either eating it or giving the meat to someone else. Obviously people break the law, I have found deer carcasses where a majority of the deer was left to waste and only tenderloins, antlers, and back straps were taken while the rest was disposed of at a local river access spot underneath a bridge on the edge of town.
I can’t stand the idea of killing an animal for a single cut of meat or solely cosmetic features such as antlers. Many people are just ignorant as to what you can do with the various parts of a deer or are victims of the consumer market that we have here in Western culture, which pushes people away from eating things like organ meat other unpopular cuts.
This is why I am writing this blog post! I hope that maybe I can change a few people’s perspective and maybe save a few items from going into the trash or left in the field when deer hunting this season or the next. EVERY part of the deer has a use (this translates over to practically every hooved animal) and each part has been utilized for thousands of years.
Do take note that in the past few decades, chronic wasting disease (CWD) has become a growing issue in deer/elk populations within various regions of the United States. There is no cure as it is a prion disease (a transmissible disease caused by a misfolded protein which impacts an animal’s brain/nervous system) and is 100% fatal. Since there is no cure, many state wildlife agencies are moving towards requiring hunter’s to debone meat in the field and leaving the bones, skulls (with the brain), and spines in the field or region as to prevent the prions from moving from one contaminated area to a new area where the prions haven’t been introduced. The only treatment for the issue currently seems to be prevention via the forms of CWD testing and preventing introduction to new areas. Many states are looking to reduce deer population numbers as to help prevent prevalence.
If it isn’t illegal in your state/county to transport an entire carcass or you reside within the same county/deer unit which you harvested your animal then please consider keeping and making use of the items that come with your newly acquired venison, but still be sure to get your deer tested for CWD.
1. Deer Hide
Surprisingly, many people throw out the hide of their deer. This is because many people are ignorant to the process of tanning a hide. Many know that it takes a little bit of time and money to buy the materials. Many don’t really know what to do with the leather outside of using it for taxidermy when mounting a big buck.
Hunters are aware of the material of buckskin, but many aren’t dying to make a buckskin shirt or pants. It just comes down to convenience and what someone is willing to try and fail at. Many people are “too busy” to do such time consuming tasks. This is why many hunters send their deer to a processor. Buckskin is a fine, durable leather that can be made into clothing and accessories such as wool/fur lined mittens, or for moccasins.
The hide can also be dried and remained unprocessed after getting the hair removed via one of the many methods. Rawhide was also used for many various objects. It was used to back bows to increase the lifespan and durability of the bow. Many people use rawhide for saddles, it was also used for making drums. Nowadays rawhide is used for dog chew toys, though people still use them for its traditional use.
The uses of a good deer hide stop at your creativity. You can basically make your own leather, which allows you to practice your leatherworking skills or sell it for some amount of pocket change down the road. The hide market isn’t what it used to be as I hear so I would argue that it is worth more using it yourself and making a fine product at home as the end product could be worth more than an entire unprocessed hide in good condition.
Sinew is such a cool material. It is the composed strands of the tendons/ligaments within an animal. This material is interesting because it is super strong and fibrous. Many native cultures relied on sinew to make things such as cordage, bow strings, sewing thread, and also used it as a hafting material to fasten arrowheads and blades to arrow/spear shafts as well as knife handles. People would place dried sinew in their mouth as to rehydrate it and make the fibers more malleable, then as it would dry, the material would compress to the form of the object, making it an ideal material for the previously mentioned tools. This material was used for numerous other tools, but was definitely essential to day to day functions.
Consider saving it the next time you process a deer. If you have no purpose for the fiber, I am sure that someone would be willing to take it off your hands if you ask around or sell it online given the strength of the material.
Bones are one of those things that you just find in a field and they almost look fake. I have found pieces of spine and various other bones that survived a controlled prairie fire and were bleach white. They are just fascinating to look at. I even had a friend visit me in college and he spent a good portion of the day walking around with a deer femur bone sticking out of his cargo pants pocket for the look of it.
Bones were previously used for many things such as amendments in the garden (bone meal), tools, art/décor, and even weapons. They were a useful thing to have and are readily available though I am sure they were even more common before the arrival of Europeans within the United States. Bone was also used for making fish hooks. One can also eat the marrow within the bone as it is super nutritious, but I know many people aren’t that adventurous.
Many people aren’t too adventurous about eating organ meat nowadays either. Within a lot of modern Western civilizations people have begun to look away from eating organ meat such as liver, kidney, heart, testicles, stomach, etc. This is because we now have the convenience of choice and a “stable” national food system for the time being giving us seemingly indefinite access to cuts of meat previously only made available to the wealthy.
In reality, the most nutritious parts of the animal are the internal organs. This is why when animals kill prey they typically eat the innards first. Many argue that some of the best sausage is made with natural casings, i.e. the small intestine. A lot of nutrition is in the intestines after they are cleaned as many know that this is where a lot of the digestion of nutrients actually happens rather than the stomach despite common belief.
Whatever other parts of the entrails that you don’t use can easily be used to help fertilize your garden. If you follow this advice do make sure to bury the remains deep beneath your compost or within your garden bed. I made the mistake of burying the guts a little too close to the ground. This caused a swarm of flies to pile on top of where the remains were buried. They could smell said remains, but couldn’t get to them leaving them sitting on top of the pile and flying around trying to figure out where the smell of decay was at. It was not ideal to have that amount of flies within 20 feet of your backdoor.
5. The Brain
The brain is one of those things that many people are grossed out by the idea of handling. Many people don’t know what to do with the brain besides throw it out. It seems that many cultures didn’t do a whole lot with the brain beside use it to tan their hides. The brain is fatty and is used to condition leather.
It is said that each animal has a brain that is the perfect size to tan its own hide. You have to mix the brain with a bit of water and apply it to the skin side of the hide or soak the entire thing for a few hours or overnight. I haven’t tried this method of tanning yet, but would like to in the coming future.
Other forms of fat can be found on the body of the deer throughout the skinning and butchering process. The deer I recently processed had been hanging around in corn fields so she had built up quite a nice amount of fat. For those who don’t know, deer fat isn’t like that of pork fat or beef fat. It has more of a waxy texture that will coat your entire mouth. It also is said to go rancid in the freezer over large amounts of time making it not ideal for keeping on your cuts of meat.
Despite this, many people still make use of the fat. You can eat it fresh, though it may be an acquired taste. Many people render the fat into lard for cooking, much like Crisco. From there they can either use it for making soap or candles. It can be stored at room temperature for a year or more in a glass jar.
It is definitely worth keeping around rather than discarded. I hope to do a video on the subject soon as I have two 5-gallon freezer bags full of fat trimmings ready to be processed.
As you can tell there is so much to be grateful for after harvesting a deer. Not only do they feed us and our family, but the animal gives us tools and other crafting material. They clothe us and keep us warm. I can’t emphasize how much potential each piece of the animal is.
I believe it is sinful to waste any portion of the animal without and true reasoning besides health and safety in the modern area. This is just my point of view and I encourage you to consider the same perspective. Hopefully this inspires you to take a few risks and try a few new things in the future.