Hunters are used to eating wild game meat—but you might notice that when you’re done butchering a deer, bear, rabbit or duck, there’s a lot left behind. If you typically just get rid of the carcass and less desirable parts, you might be leaving a treasure trove of usable product behind. Here are 10 things you can do with your next harvest besides just eating the meat. Just keep in mind that these suggestions are for your personal use. There are many federal and state laws that regulate/forbid the sale of wild game parts and products made from hunted game, so don’t plan on selling anything unless you have thoroughly checked all applicable laws.
1. Eat the Offal
“Offal” (pronounced like “awful;” a very unfortunate coincidence) is a catch-all term for organ meat, which is the most nutritious part of most animals. Deer heart is the easiest and least intimidating organ to start with, but you can also try kidney, testicles and caul fat once you get more adventurous. In general, hearts are safe to eat from nearly all game, and there’s some disagreement about livers and tongues. Many hunters eat wild game liver and tongue and have for a long time, so this is a judgement call. Some sources will tell you that wild game offal contains higher levels of chemicals than the meat does, but this seems to be true of farmed meat as well. Don’t forget to make stock from the bones of upland birds, waterfowl and turkeys. Experts disagree on whether or not it’s safe to consume bone broth made from venison bones, due to CWD concerns. Many hunters do it, but until we know for certain, the wise thing to do is avoid venison bones, stock and marrow.
In general, you should not consume the brain, eyes, spleen, lymph nodes, tonsils or spinal cord and surrounding tissue of any animal. And fun fact, not that you’re likely to ever have the option, but never consume polar bear liver—it contains toxic levels of vitamin A.
2. Make Charcuterie
OK, this is basically eating the meat, but in a very different way from what you’re used to. If you’re tired of steaks and ground meat and roasts, you can consider doing something different with your game meat. Try corning a roast for St. Patrick’s Day, or try making your own salami or prosciutto. These are very specific preparations that need to be done correctly to avoid spoiling the meat, so follow a wild-game-specific recipe carefully.
3. Cook With the Fat
Fat from bears and ducks, in particular, is excellent for cooking and frying. Bear fat is legendary for making the best pie/pastry dough, and duck fat takes any kind of fried potato dish to the next level. Just cut the fat off the animal in chunks, dump them in a crockpot on low and let it melt until it separates into liquid and solids. Discard the solids, strain the liquid and you have beautiful cooking or baking fat. Do note, however, that deer fat and the fat of some sea ducks is not considered tasty enough for cooking. Fat from wild hogs can be delicious or pretty foul tasting, depending on the pig, so render a small amount in a pan and do a taste-test before you bother with the whole animal.
4. Make Something with the Fat
Speaking of bear fat, it can be used for making all sorts of personal care products, from medicinal salve to chapstick. Many types of fat, including the fat found in the internal cavity of a deer, can be used to make soap (just look up a recipe online; the basic ingredients are fat and lye, although they must be in the proper ratios), and this fat or suet can be used for candle-making, too. Old-timers used bear fat for everything from waxing their beards to oiling their muskets to waterproofing leather.
5. Tie Flies with the Hair
Fly-fishermen tie flies with all sorts of things—duck feathers, deer hair, and squirrel tails are especially popular. This is an intricate art, but you can have lots of fun experimenting with different materials. There’s even a company called Mepps that will buy squirrel tails from you to use in making their flies.
6. Create Antler and Skull Art
Gun racks, lamps and coat hangers made of deer legs/hooves used to be a popular way of using up animal parts, but these days, the trends are more in favor of antler and skull art. There are all sorts of cool ways to dress up a skull and turn it into a work of art, using burning, carving, the application of beads or crystals, and more. Antlers, of course, make beautiful chandeliers, but you can also just display a single antler as art or decorate your home with sheds. I’ve even seen them stacked up in a pyramid to make an antler Christmas tree!
Antlers also make good traditional knife handles; you can even have a sheath made from the tanned (skin-off) hide.
7. Display the Hide
You can have just about any furred hide tanned for display. Bear rugs are an obvious example, but trappers’ pelts of coyotes, foxes, coons and more are popular as wall décor. Deer hides can also be tanned, and they look great tossed over the back of a couch depending on your decorating style. This is a popular option for a kid’s first deer, especially if it’s a doe and there are no antlers to mount.
8. Make Something to Wear
Think rabbit-fur-lined gloves, a bear-hide vest, a buckskin coat, a fox or beaver winter hat and more. Wearing a traditional fur coat isn’t exactly in fashion these days, but there are lots of ways to wear fur or hides in small quantities that will look great and help you make use of your animal. These projects can be labor-intensive with a steep learning curve, so it might take you a few tries to get the item perfect, but there are also places you can send your fur to be made into the item of your choice.
It's popular to make jewelry with certain items, especially elk ivories and bear or mountain lion claws. Again, if you’re not a silversmith, hop on Etsy or Google and you can find jewelers who specialize in utilizing wild-game trophies. There are even places that can make you a wedding ring out of an antler you send in.
9. Make Decor with the Hide
Depending on the thickness of the hide, there are all sorts of décor options. For thinner-haired animals, try a hair-on decorative pillow, purse or picture frame. You can also have a portion of hide sewn into an ottoman or decorative furniture, or incorporate it into a wooden stand for mounted taxidermy. Sewing hides/leather is a little more complicated or difficult than sewing fabric, but some of these projects are simple enough that you can tackle them yourself with a little know-how and enough ambition.
10. Make Use of Feathers
Traditional archers love turkey wing feathers for making vanes for their arrows, and you can also dry and save the fans for display or for adding realism to your decoy for your next turkey hunt.
If you shoot a ton of ducks, try saving the down (not the actual feathers; they’re too stabby) for washing and stuffing into a pillow. I admit I have no idea how many ducks this would take, and it would be labor-intensive to say the least, but it’s an option. You can also use larger feathers as calligraphy quills or pens (turkey wing feathers are great for this) or make them into art pieces. You can even incorporate beautiful feathers from pheasants, ducks and more into clothing, jewelry and accessories, including hats.