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Posted on Tue, Oct 11, 2011 : 7:55 p.m.

How much is your butcher bill? Hunting is an inexpensive way to put organic-fed meat in your freezer

By Rick Taylor

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Phil Tolliver, owner of True North Jerky Co., is pictured with me while posing with my butchered meat from two deer that I shot a few days earlier.

Rick Taylor | Contributor

You’ll often hear of the “thrill of the hunt” from successful hunters. They’ll talk about a big buck or nice doe coming into shooting range and then making a great shot resulting in a nice harvest.

Some people find the word “harvest” offensive because it hides the true intention of what a hunter has actually done. Of course, that would be taking the life of a deer, or killing it, to be more specific.

The focus of non-hunters typically focuses on this aspect of hunting — the killing part. They see a beautiful creature in the woods, and then they see the death of that animal. It’s a visceral and frustrating thing for some people to wrap their head around. Why shoot that deer when you can go to the grocery store and get your own organic-fed meat?

I can easily speak for the vast majority of hunters when answering the above mentioned question. What could possibly be more organic than wild game?

I know for an absolute fact that white tail deer, elk, rabbit and bear forage for their food by eating natural vegetation. It’s that simple. More importantly, hunters don’t talk about how much meat they put in the freezer; they have no reason to discuss it.

I, however, hope to open the eyes of the non-hunting public by showing you how much meat can be attained from hunting.

Cows, pigs, chicken and turkeys are fed a multitude of chemicals to make them grow faster so they can be slaughtered quicker for human consumption. The organic meats available at the grocery store are few and far between. Even more insulting are the absurd prices they’re asking for their meat.

I shot a buck and a doe last week while bow hunting in Dexter; I’ll leave the hunting description out of the story for today. I’d like you to focus on the meat I harvested from this hunt, so here we go.

I received the following:

  • 36 pounds of lean venison burger ($3.59 per pound at grocery store)
  • 25 pounds of jerky ($8 per pack average)
  • 10 pounds of stew meat ($4.49 per pound at grocery store)
  • 16 pounds of tenderloin and back straps ($14.99 per pound at grocery store)
  • 12 pounds of roast meat ($4.39 per pound at grocery store)

The final cost to purchase meat from the grocery store that doesn’t include “organic” meat? $667!

Hunters don’t typically talk about their groceries because it’s such a “no brainer” to eat what you kill. Besides, the hunting story is much more exciting than the look on your face picking up your own meat from the butcher.

Some of you may be saying, “Oh sure you saved money, but how much did you spend up front before shooting your prey?” This answer is simple. I spend $15 per deer license which comes to a total of $30. I then spent $80 for butcher fees and an additional $120 for the venison jerky processing. My total cost for everything is $230 which puts my cost per pound of meat at $2.32 after expenses.

In all fairness, there are other costs as well. They include the cost of arrows; bow itself, hunting clothes and broad heads. The total investment for those items fall into the range of about $900.

However, my bow has killed many, many deer over the last five years, and my arrows are reused about 70 percent of the time, because they go completely through the deer. I’m sure there’s an accountant who could perform a depreciation schedule on my equipment over 10 years, if so inclined.

The point is simple, no pun intended. Killing your own game is not only very healthy for you but also a huge cost savings over the grocery store as well.

I’ll be elk hunting in Wyoming on Oct. 15, and I look forward to writing about it. Please tell me about your exciting hunting stories this year, and the winner will be featured in one of my future columns.

Sadly, I heard of a hunter who sustained a devastating injury last week in the Chelsea area. My thoughts and prayers are with this person and their family.

Your story ideas and comments are warmly welcomed. Rick can be reached at 734-223-5656 (cell) or by email at


Rick Taylor

Fri, Oct 14, 2011 : 1 a.m.

Hi Everyone! Forgive me for not responding to earlier comments regarding who my butcher is. I've been wrapping things up before I fly out tomorrow morning to Wyoming for a Elk bowhunt. My butcher most of the time is myself. I have a good farmer friend who lets me use his equipment, of course it took some time to become efficient. However, I also use Phil Tolliver who owns the best darn Jerky store east of the Mississippi; True North Jerky is the name of the business and Phil does a great job which is located in Chelsea, MI. By the way, I'd like to respond to an earlier comment about "Organic" definitions. I'll keep this real simple for those who snub their noses at my explaination of "organic fed" deer. Deer don't eat from a trough; they browse-it's as simple as that. Yes, deer do eat from crops but there's a big difference between direct injections from antibiotics and hormone laced feed. Why some people feel the need to be difficult is unanswerable. Anyway... crops like corn and soybeans are 90-110 day long crops. The big questions is what do deer eat for the other 265 days??? We could take this to a whole other level and discuss how acid rain affects deer, smog from I-94, radon emitting from the ground, arsenic in the water, etc... at some point common sense has to kick in-that's all I'm saying. Whether you agree with my point of view or not I must say that I appreciate your comments. Wish me luck in Wyoming! RIck Taylor

Rork Kuick

Thu, Oct 13, 2011 : 8:43 p.m.

Sorry to be late to the party - I've been busy. Want to discuss butchering too. First, I noticed a new deer processor on Dexter-Pinckney road, just south of Territorial on the east side (JT or something like that?). I personally butcher all my own deer, and help folks with theirs, (and clean up several buck heads every year too, European mounts you might call them - I learned in Germany, but it ain't that hard). It's pretty easy to butcher your own, but when I get asked "how to do it", or if it is better than what some pro does I answer: There is no best way - It depends on what you want to cook. That matters from the moment your knife goes for that first shoulder - is that going to be a roast and how big, or is that going to be ground, etc. In my little group of bow hunters what we want to end up with varies tremendously. No two of us treat a ham (rear leg) the same way. Pros are very different from each other in what you'll end up with too. That's a good thing. If you aren't the main cook, listen to the main cook about what they want too. 1 in freezer. I actually very much like butchering. Handling and putting in the freezer outstanding food - it's really satisfying. It helps to have company - two deer and two people.


Thu, Oct 13, 2011 : 12:14 a.m.

Where's Ted Nugent when you need him! He could answer all these questions and a few more you hadn't thought of askin'.

Not a valid excuse for a newspaper

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 9:41 p.m.

Someone get this meat in a freezer, pronto!

Rick Taylor

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 4:39 p.m.

Thank you all for your comments! It's nice to know there are people out there who read my stories. Now, if I could just my clients that easily (ha...). Anyway, just wanted to point out that I'm aware that chemicals are everywhere and almost impossible to eliminate when it comes to our balanced diet. That being said I think its fair to say that wild game is a far better choice than the beef bought from the grocery store. Thanks again for your comments and I'll keep writing them so long as it doesn't interfere with my profession. Rick Taylor

Sarah Rigg

Thu, Oct 13, 2011 : 1:15 p.m.

Actually, Not-a-valid, it's very rare that a writer/reporter gets to write his/her own headlines. That's usually done by a copy editor or section editor. I think "organic-fed" is fair, since it doesn't say "organic" or "exclusively organically-fed."

Not a valid excuse for a newspaper

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 9:40 p.m.

Hey - you title this article with "organic-fed meat," not "a far better choice than beef bought from the grocery store." Misleading, thus a valid criticism. And you may think that wild game is a far better choice, but I'm not willing to gamble. Deer feed on all kinds of plants, including flower beds that are treated with chemicals never intended for ingestion. I'll stick with my organic meat CSA (Old Pine Farms), where my meat is certifiably organic for less than grocery-store prices, thank-you. But thanks for helping reduce the over-population of deer.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 2:08 p.m.

Thanks for the story. I wish I was able to go out and hunt again. Boo hoo, bad shoulders...can't even draw over 30lbs...and I use to hunt w/my bow at 42...but I can't imagine anything better than a good shoulder roast braised with home canned stewed tomatoes then served over a bed of wild rice...omg I'm getting hungry. When my sister and I were little girls, Pops would come home from his hunt up in the thumb area and no matter what time of night it was, he would get the backstrap, load some budda in the cast iron skillet and my mom would have made a fresh loaf of bread and those medallions was our treat for him being gone! We had a huge chest freezer and we would have a half of pig and at least 2 deer to get us through the winter.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 3:34 p.m.

Crossbow is now legal in Michigan! I have two friends with very bad shoulders and they love the crossbow! Get out and get at it, nothing more cleansing of the soul than being out in the woods!


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 1:37 p.m.

Great story Rick, nice to see something about the "real life" in Michigan. The issue on the health of eating game is a complex one, due to the many variations in habitat. Concerning White tail deer, the planted crops deer, in southern Michigan, generally graze on (besides your prized home plantings) are mostly hay/alfalfa, they nibble on corn and beans. The rest of their diet is forage from the woods. Herbicides are the biggest contaminate they encounter, specifically organophosphates (Round-up) they are applied to corn fields early in the season. The rest is picked up drinking from creeks, streams, lakes and rivers. All this adds up to a trivial compared to store bought beef. Store bought beef is crammed full of pesticides and herbicides (from "feed"), antibiotics and hormones (injected and fed to them). The waste produced by these "factor farmed" cattle is then sprayed over corn and bean fields as "fertilizer", which contaminates well water and those creeks, streams, lakes and rivers. Add to that, the green house gasses produced in all the activity required to bring a (beef) steak to the table. Obviously, venison is the "cleanest and greenest" form of meat available, by a very big margin! Personally, a venison loin or backstap with sauteed Michigan morels on top is as good as it gets!!!!


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 11:58 a.m.

Whoa! Easy there on the 'It's not organic' stuff. Do deer feed on farmers' crops? Sure. But give it a moments thought. How many months out of a typical Michigan year are those crops available to be foraged on? Three, maybe four? What happens from October through May? I haven't seen many deer silos lately. Another thing: Many farmers, of which I'm one, (OK, I'm not actually a farmer, but I do lease out my acreage) insist that the only chemicals used on their land are fertilizers like direct injection nitrogen. No pesticides, etc. are used. So, the deer happily devastate the outer rows of my corn, but I get even in the end. Heh.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 11:24 a.m.

I agree that it's a great way to stock meat in your freezer, and can no doubt be much more ecologically sound method of harvesting meat than factory farms. Still, I wouldn't be so quick to call it organic. Deer and other wildlife may not be injected with and fed growth hormones, and they of course do nibble on natural, wild vegetation once in a while. Still, they spend a good deal of their time munching away in farm fields that are sprayed with all sorts of toxins - probably making up the majority of their diet in many areas. Good for you, good for nature? Yes, I think so. Organic? Not quite. Unless you take your hunt far far out of the range of farm fields of lower Michigan, there is still going to be a lot of nasty chemicals going in to the diet of most "wild" life.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 11:10 a.m.

*Inexpensive*??? I suppose if you only start counting *after* you've bought all the gear, and don't add up the value of your time, it might look inexpensive. There are certainly many, much more expensive sports/hobbies. And when you're successful, it eventually pays off. (But I'm just grumpy that my ground blind blew away and the mosquitoes are just as bad as in August!) These days, I think of hunting as a public service. The deer population is high, they don't have much in the way of predators around here (we're not likely to bring back wolves), it's cheaper to let hunters do the population control, and it's much more humane for hunters to quickly kill deer than to have the deer slowly starve to death over the winter. But where do you go to process deer these days? I've about given up on that - it's hard to find a butcher who will handle deer.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 8:43 p.m.

Yeah, that's what we did last time. But part of the article is getting it processed - it would be a nice option.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 12:33 p.m.

Process them yourself. It's not a real difficult or laborious task. They sell small hand crank meat grinders if you arent interested in the bigger expensive ones. I've never taken an animal to a processor. This way you know exactly how it was handled and nothing else was added to it.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 10:55 a.m.

I agree that hunting is a great way to put meat in your freezer. I have no clue where my game has eaten or what, I doubt you do either. So calling it organic when it could have grazed heavily in a farmer's fields is guessing. Chemicals are heavily used in corn and other grains.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 9:20 p.m.

Meat from locally hunted deer is definitely better than the feed-lot meat sold in grocery stores, but I would not call it organic. I see many of these deer feeding in the local farmer's fields. Not only are a lot of chemicals used, but almost all field corn grown is GMO. A gene has been added so the corn produces a form of the BT Toxin. It kills bugs that eat the corn. It's been claimed our stomach acids would kill it, but they are now finding BT in our bloodstreams. But our government still refuses to require GMO foods be labeled as such so we can decide if we want to eat them.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 3:19 p.m.

Come watch the field across the road from me. Round up in the spring, two or three passes with pesticides during the summer. I will not add the anhydrous ammonia and other fertilizer added through the year. Year after, year corn in the same field. I grew up on a farm. We rotated crops and did not use round up or other herbicides. I raised cattle growing up, beyond an occasional vet administered medication (2 or 3 animals a year from a herd of 200+) we did vaccinations and no other chemicals. I find the level people seem to use locally heavy, compared to what I grew up with. But then that was 30+ years ago and farming changes.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 12:30 p.m.

Chemicals are "heavily" used in corn? Where or who are you watching plant corn? Please explain because I've farmed corn for years and would hardly describe the use of chemicals as heavy.

Max Peters

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 11:20 a.m.

And this is why the label "organic" is silly. Is it better to feed animals (or have them feed, in this case) on corn shipped in from 100s of miles away or have them eat the corn that is grown in the local community? Ogranic also says nothing about where the animals are raised - many dairy herds only see grass as heifers or when dry, not when milking. Clearly these animals are antibiotic-free and completely free-ranged. Organic? Who cares. Sustainable? Definitely.

Kirk Gibson

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 2:33 a.m.

Very nice article. Please keep these stories coming.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 1:35 a.m.

Keep the good articles coming!

Bacon Bits

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 1:27 a.m.

Thanks for the article, I look forward to your future ones. One question... Which butcher do you use?

Jim Pryce

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 12:10 a.m.

Rick, keep the good articles coming. I hope to get out this weekend with my bow. I didn't make it out this past weekend due to the fact I was teaching Hunter education class.