Every year, I speak with someone who would like to get more out of their whitetail harvest. There are few things a true sportsman hates more than seeing useable portions of a harvest go to waste. Often this happens simply because someone doesn’t know what to do with a cut of meat, a set of antlers, or an animal skin.
I’ve had the same trouble. Especially early in my hunting journey, I wasn’t sure how to utilize cuts like ribs or shanks. These items usually ended up in the “grind pile”. I also hated seeing hides left to rot and antlers that piled up in a corner somewhere. Now, there are several ways to walk away from a butchering location with very little left behind.
Taking a break from the steaks, roasts, and ground meat in this post, I want to give you seven ways to use the items that most folks simply walk away from.
1. Bone Broth
Particularly utilizing the larger leg bones has become one of my favorite parts of a whitetail. Venison stock is, in my opinion, far superior to any domesticated beef stock. It’s richness and silky textures are fantastic for soup bases or pot roast recipes.
Making bone broth with deer bone is super easy! All you need is a crock pot that will fit the length of the bone you are cooking. Add a bit of water, salt, pepper, water, onions, celery, and carrots. Cook the broth on low for up to 48 hours. The longer the cook, the richer the broth. Then you can freeze or store the broth in the amount desired.
What about CWD? I try to stay away from making broth with spine or skull for this reason. If you harvest a deer that you think has CWD or tests positive for it, use good judgement in the way you handle and consume the animal.
Deer ribs always puzzled me. It was almost like I had some strange fear of how to deal with them. Even more than that, I hated cutting the small slivers of meat from between the rib sections. I can’t credit what I do with ribs now to personal experimentation. Steve Rinella of Meat Eater shed light on this for me and I am so thankful he did.
Using a hack saw or meat saw, cut the ribs away from the spinal column at the joint areas. Once the full sections are removed, trim away anything that would prevent you from rolling the section into a tight roll. Then, with the saw, cut perpendicularly across the roll of ribs, making two halves. Then, using a knife, cut away any damaged sections and cut the two halves into manageable quarters, leaving four portions per side of ribs. This will make storing them in your freezer much easier. (See Rinella’s recipe here.)
The middle section of the leg is often one of the most puzzling for hunters. It’s a painstaking issue to cut all the red meat away from the string-like sinew and connective tissue. But don’t throw these out! They make great osso bucco, and even better soup broth. They are easy to vacuum seal, and don’t take up much space in the freezer.
If nothing else, simply cook them off like a roast and utilize the meat from them for stroganoff. Then, use the leg bone to make bone broth!
Let’s face it, sometimes shoulders get a bad wrap. With smaller deer, shoulders can seem like more of a hassle than they are worth, especially if they’ve been mangled by a high-powered bullet. But beware! Simply cutting shoulders up for ground meat can cause you to miss out on one of the best roast cuts of the animal. In my opinion, if you managed to not hit the shoulder, you should do your best to salvage this roast bone-in.
A shoulder roast, or as some call it, a blade roast is one of the most simple cuts. All you need to do is remove the leg bone from the joint that connects it to the shoulder blade. What you have left is a relatively small roast that is perfect for the crock pot. The best part, you spent minimal time cutting the meat away from the bone.
If your shot hit the shoulder and damage is significant, simply cut away the meat that is salvageable for the grind pile. Be careful! Shoulder hits can be a home for bullet fragments. Look for bullet damage in the cuts of meat you remove.
In the heat of the moment, I don’t try to intentionally miss the heart when I shoot. If I’m blessed to salvage a whole heart from a deer, it’s like the cherry on top of the cake! Many folks think that heart is similar to liver. It’s not. Heart is one of the most dense muscles in the body. It can even be more tender than tenderloin or Backstrap if prepared well.
To prepare for cooking, remove the tough outer layer and cut away the fatty portion at the “top” of the heart. You should be left with rich, dark red meat. I like to cut it into sections for grilling or strips for searing in a skillet.
Something I’ve always cringed at is deer hide laying around a butchering area. Maybe it is because of 8 years in taxidermy. Animal hides are extremely valuable to the right person.
Tanned hides are fantastic gifts for kids or friends. Tanning them can even be a fun winter project for you to do with your children at home. It’s as simple as purchasing a kit that contains all of the instructions and tanning chemicals. Medium to large buck hides that are properly caped and cared for can actually make you a few extra dollars at the right taxidermy shop.
One effort that is particularly special program that I’ll be taking my extra hides to, is the Elks Veterans Leather Program. Donated hides are made into gloves for veterans at no cost to you or the vets. Local Elks lodges cover the cost of tanning. All you need to do is contact someone from your local elks lodge for you to drop the hides off to.
Look around your house. See any antlers collecting dust? Did you know that hobby knife makers, when they have to purchase antlers for handles, can pay more than $20 per set for the right size? Antlers can be great bartering tools. Some knife makers even prefer smaller antler sizes for more comfortable handles.
I probably don’t need to mention Pinterest, because everyone pretty well knows about it by now, but there are some great antler Christmas gift ideas there too. You might even score some points with the wife by actually making something with them instead of just adding to the collection.
The Same Old Same Old…
It’s easy to fall into a trap of processing your deer the same way every time. I encourage you to mix it up this year. Try new cuts, new recipes, even start new traditions with the blessing of your whitetail deer harvest! Walking away from the place you do your butchering is so much more rewarding when you know you’re leaving as little behind as possible.