I Harvested a Deer! But How do I Get the Meat?
After a successful bowhunt, you’ll make many decisions about what happens next with your animal. For instance, you’ll need to pick a processor to butcher and package the meat, and possibly a taxidermist to preserve the hide and mount the animal.
No matter the game you’ve arrowed, it should be processed quickly. However, you might not choose to get the animal mounted. Not every animal you take receives such honors. That said, hunts and animals that carry significance – your first harvest, for example – often warrant a mount to display in your home or office. It’s a great way to share your memories and bowhunting accomplishments.
Your local archery shop should always be your first stop on the hunt for bowhunting advice. In addition, the following tips will help you find a processor and taxidermist to ensure these jobs get done right.
Don’t select the first processor or taxidermist that comes up in an internet search. That leaves the fate of your meat and mount to chance. Instead, ask other hunters for recommendations. If you’re new to bowhunting and unsure where to find reputable help, call nearby archery shops. The pros who work there will tell you who they use and trust. You’ll likely get feedback from fellow customers, too.
What to Ask
Once you have names of credible processors and taxidermists, call and ask the important questions. Here are some things you should ask, and why.
Will I get “my” meat back?
Hunting season is a busy time for processors. To save time, some grind burger in large batches using meat from several animals of the same species. Once these meats are ground, there’s no way to know which meat came from what animal. That might not seem like a big deal. Venison is all the same, right? Not exactly. Field care the animal received, and several other factors, can significantly affect taste. Further, mixed grinding eliminates the certainty of knowing exactly how the meat on your plate got there. Choose a processor who grinds each animal individually.
Who skins it?
If you plan to have your animal mounted, you must remove the hide so it can be prepared for taxidermy. “Caping” an animal – skinning the head and neck to prepare for mounting – requires precision cuts and great care, which is a job suited for professionals. Ask each processor if they provide this service.
What cuts do you want?
Steaks, roasts and burger are standard cuts, but you have other options to consider when processing game animals. Jerky, sausage, hot-sticks, bratwurst and venison bacon are a few delicious ways to add variety to meals your animal provides. If these items interest you, ask each prospective processor for a list of options they offer.
What packaging do they use?
This often-overlooked question has major effects on meat’s longevity once it’s in the freezer. Seek processors who use vacuum-sealed packaging or butcher paper. Avoid those using cheaper options like zip-lock bags and cellophane wrap.
How do they preserve the hide?
Antlers are the main focus of taxidermy mounts – a lot goes into the growth of a deer’s magnificent crown – but the hide (the animal’s skin and fur) makes up most of what’s seen in the finished product. Full-body, life-size mounts can be done, but most mounts consist of the animal’s head, neck and shoulders, hence the term, “shoulder mount.”
The process used to preserve animal hides affect the mount’s quality and longevity. To cut costs, some taxidermists use standard drying methods rather than tanning the hide. Tanning turns the hide into leather, resulting in a high-quality mount. When selecting a taxidermist, insist on tanning. To learn more, check out this video.
How experienced are you?
Taxidermy is an art form, and some wildlife artists are more naturally talented than others. Still, experience goes a long way. Ask each prospective taxidermist how long they’ve been in business, where they trained, and if they work alone or with assistants. If you speak with a relatively new taxidermist, you might ask for additional references to learn more about their workmanship. Ask the same thing about a taxidermist’s assistant. Perhaps the most important test, however, is studying their work. Visit their studio to inspect finished mounts. If you see deer with buggy eyes, ratty looking capes or poorly aligned ears, take your business elsewhere.
What You’ll Need
Before dropping off your animal with a processor or taxidermist, be prepared. First, double-check that all tags and other harvest documentation are properly filled out. Failure to do so invites legal trouble for you and your service providers. Check your state wildlife agency for rules and protocol regarding harvested animals. Also, think about the meat cuts you want, and how you’d like your trophy mount to look. Finally, be prepared to pay a deposit for their services. These rates vary, but it’s not uncommon to pay 50 percent of the final cost upfront.
What’s it Cost?
Prices for processing and taxidermy vary, but the figures below provide some clues.
Basic deer processing typically costs $75 to $120, but it varies with each processor. If you order jerky and sausage, the cost will increase, generally at per-pound rates. Don’t be afraid to ask your processor for an estimate before making your final decision. Some processors offer packages at reasonable prices.
A shoulder mount for deer or pronghorn ranges from $300 to $600, depending on the taxidermist. The large price variation is caused by many factors, such as experience level, tanning costs, and quality of materials.
When making these critical decisions after a successful bowhunt, don’t limit your decisions by price alone. Also, remember references from your local archery shop, and other hunters are usually the best.
No matter if you bowhunt purely to harvest lean organic protein, or you’re holding out for an animal worthy of an artistic taxidermist and lots of meat, trust this work to people who can bring bowhunting’s rewards full circle.