Archive for Sunday, December 12, 2010

Overbrook’s Santa Fe Trail Meats puts other business on hold during rifle season for deer

Santa Fe Trail Meats owner Aaron Higbie estimates that his shop processes about 400 deer during the hunting season that runs from September to January.

Santa Fe Trail Meats owner Aaron Higbie estimates that his shop processes about 400 deer during the hunting season that runs from September to January.

December 12, 2010


Deer meat draws hunters out into Kansas' wilderness

Deer hunters take their bucks and does to Santa Fe Trail Meats to process into a variety of venison cuts, providing hunters and their families with pounds of meat for stocking a freezer. Enlarge video

Shannon Bollinger shot an 11-point buck just after sun up Thursday. By 9 a.m., he had the deer at Overbrook’s Santa Fe Trail Meats for processing.

Shannon Bollinger shot an 11-point buck just after sun up Thursday. By 9 a.m., he had the deer at Overbrook’s Santa Fe Trail Meats for processing.

Summer sausage is one of many products available from deer meat. Deer meat cannot be sold and can only be processed by and for the hunter with a deer tag and license. Hunters can donate a deer to be processed for charity.

Summer sausage is one of many products available from deer meat. Deer meat cannot be sold and can only be processed by and for the hunter with a deer tag and license. Hunters can donate a deer to be processed for charity.

Venison recipes

Deer Chili

2 lbs. ground venison

2 onions

2 peppers

1 can tomatoes chopped

1 can tomato sauce

1 package chili mix

Brown ground venison with chopped onions and peppers for about 10 minutes.

Put contents in a crockpot. (You don’t have to drain off any grease because there should be very little.) Add remaining ingredients and cook on low for six hours.


Venison jerky

5 pounds venison

1 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup lime juice

1/2 cup vinegar

1/4 cup crushed red chili flakes

2 tablespoons of garlic powder

Slice the meat against the grain approximately 3/16 to 1/4 inch thick. Slice meat when it is partially frozen for best results. In a bowl, mix soy sauce, lime juice, vinegar, red chili flakes and garlic powder. Add the meat to cure and marinate for at least 24 hours, refrigerated. Rack the meat in a hot smoker and smoke at approximately 100 degrees for one to two days, until almost crispy.


— Shannon Bollinger wishes he had a four-wheeler. It sure would help with the grocery shopping.

Instead, it is not even 9 o’clock in the morning and Bollinger already is worn out. He has an 11-point buck deer on the back of a flatbed pickup to thank for that.

Not that a man who just shot an 11-point buck — on the first day that he hunted that particular spot, no less — has much right to complain, but the deer did fall in a bad place.

Just after the sun came up at 7 a.m., Bollinger — an X-ray technician from Gardner — saw the deer and took it down with a single shot to the neck. As soon as the rush of adrenaline from the hunt wore off, Bollinger realized he had just bought himself a job.

The deer was about 300 yards from where it needed to be to get it loaded onto the back of the truck.

“So, I just hooked a halter around his horns and drug him out there by myself,” Bollinger said.

A four-wheeler and a rope would have been a lot easier on his back.

Now, here at Overbrook’s Santa Fe Trail Meats, Bollinger has hold of the antlers again. He and an employee of the meat market drag the buck across the concrete steps leading to the back door of this butcher shop.

They drag him past a pile of hides that sits in a corner just inside the door. They drag him toward what could be called dead deer row — three smaller deer, hoofs up, leaning against the back wall of the slaughter room.

But they stop before they get there. This one is warm enough to go ahead and skin, if they can just get him up on an angle iron bench specially made for holding carcasses.

Grunts and groans from the two men, and then meat shop owner Aaron Higbie rushes over and grabs a horn as well.

“That’s a three-man deer there,” Higbie says as the carcass clanks upon the work surface. “Corn fed. That’s a good deer, good deer.”

What, this isn’t how you shop for meat?

• • •

The first 12 days in December are like none other in Kansas. It is rifle season for deer. It is the time of year that “horn hunters” take to the hedgerows and seek a trophy for a wall. It is the time of year that fathers will let sons go in late to school in order to partake in nature’s classroom. It is the time of year when wives who swear men are incapable of planning are proven wrong.

“There are guys who plan for this all year,” Higbie said. “They’ll take one vacation a year, and this is it.”

There’s no telling where deer season began for most hunters on Dec. 1 — probably somewhere dark and cold — but for most hunters, a meat market like this is where it ends.

It’s where it begins for Higbie — and it certainly is no vacation. Basically for two weeks, Higbie and his 11 employees do nothing but process and butcher deer. Their normal business of butchering cattle, hogs, buffalo, goats and lambs is put on hold.

“Deer season in Kansas is pretty intense,” Higbie said.

Higbie’s shop — one shop in a town of less than 1,000 people — will process about 400 deer during the season, which when you include the archery and muzzle-loader sessions stretches from September to January. But about 250 of the deer will come during this 12-day rifle period.

Already on this Thursday morning, four deer have shown up at the shop’s back door in the first hour of business. Some, like the buck, were shot just an hour or so earlier. Others were shot the evening before, or sometimes even days earlier. A Kansas December sometimes functions as a freezer.

At the back door is also where congratulations are delivered. Employees and passersby pat Bollinger on the shoulder, and he beams.

Forget all that earlier talk. Deer season doesn’t end here. It is becoming more obvious that deer season never really ends. Bollinger will be telling the story of this buck for a long time to come.

“A lot of this is about the memories and the stories,” Bollinger said. “You’ll always have those to tell.”

• • •

Memories may warm your heart, but meat fills your belly. For a lot of people who come to the Overbrook shop, the meat is mighty important, too.

“There are a lot of customers that this is pretty much the only meat they eat,” Higbie said. “There are a lot that this is the only time of year we see them.”

So, if you choose, don’t think of it as hunting. Think of it as a once-a-year shopping trip.

When it comes to deer meat, that is about the way it has to be. Good luck finding a package of deer meat — or venison, as it is technically called — at your local grocery store. In Kansas, it is against the law for retailers to sell wild game. And although domesticating deer is possible, it hasn’t become common, as with buffalo.

So that makes deer one of the last of the old-fashioned styles of meats. If you want to eat it, you’ve got to shoot it. Or perhaps find a buddy who will.

Oh yeah, you also have to clean it. Or pay Higbie — usually $85 to $100 — to do so. Even then, you’re going to need to get your hands a little dirty. Higbie asks that all deer brought to the shop are field dressed — which basically means that the stomach and other internal organs are removed. It is best to get those out quickly because a ruptured organ could contaminate the meat.

Then, it is skinning time. Higbie has one employee who is a skinning specialist.

“He’s working seven days a week right now,” Higbie said. “He’s in here until 10:30 at night on some days.”

Once the deer is skinned — which will take about 20 minutes, if you are handy with a knife and if the deer isn’t frozen stiff — it is time to get it in the cooler.

At the height of deer season, Higbie’s cooler may have upward of 150 carcasses hanging in it. In due time — most deer hang in the cooler for a week to age and become more tender — the carcasses are taken to the cutting room.

On this day, five hang from the ceiling. About a half-dozen men with knives — a couple also with hooks — begin an assembly-line process. One cuts away large pieces from the carcass and passes it along. Another cuts steaks and roasts, while yet another removes bones. Then there are men who work the grinders and some who stuff casings for summer or breakfast sausage, or other such creations.

They also keep a watchful eye out. Somebody, after all, has to find the slug that felled this animal and remove the tainted meat surrounding it.

“We’re just like the CSI folks,” Higbie said, “except we don’t get paid as much.”

It is not uncommon for a deer to yield 50 to 80 pounds of usable meat, and Kansas law now allows many hunters to shoot more than one deer a year. Depending on how you have the deer processed, it is possible for it to average out to around $2 a pound.

“A fairly cheap way to fill the freezer,” is one way it is described around here — although that description occasionally draws a laugh considering some hunters seem to require an expensive ATV, a fancy rifle, a gee-whiz GPS ... the list can go on and on.

“But a lot of the guys are still pretty simple,” Higbie said. “They have an old 30-30 rifle that has been handed down. They don’t have an ATV and all that gear. They just go get it done.”

• • •

At some point in time, most deer hunters also go get a bowl of chili. When you ask a deer hunter what his or her — Bollinger’s wife also hunts — favorite deer recipe is, chili is a likely answer.

But there are other possibilities: the sausages, the deer jerky, the deer sticks (think of something like a Slim Jim), and just plain old deer hamburgers and steaks.

Some hunters admit the meat can be a bit of an acquired taste — wild meat tastes different and the lean nature of deer meat can make it susceptible to overcooking.

But for the men who come in the back door of Santa Fe Trail Meats, they all swear by it. It’s good eating, they say. And you get the sense that the best part may be the aftertaste it leaves behind.

“I like that this is the only way you’re going to get this meat,” says Kevin McCush, a Topeka resident who brought in a deer from the Silver Lake area. “When you are fixing a meal with a deer that you know you got all on your own, it just makes you feel a little bit better about yourself.”


Tandava 7 years, 1 month ago

Venison is really good eatin'. And I've got a great recipe for it, too. It's not like what you usually find, it's really awesome. But of course I'm not going to share it.

ladeeda4 7 years, 1 month ago

How sad that the slaughter of defenseless animals makes the front page of the paper.

RoeDapple 7 years, 1 month ago

Kill 'em and grill 'em! Or would you rather take your chances "grillin' them" with your car? Bumper Bambi's are a much messier kill than those shot in the woods. Plus you can always get the full color adds for beef, pork, chicken and turkey, "slaughtered" for your consumption, folded neatly in your Sunday paper. @ $3.29/lb. !!

kernal 7 years, 1 month ago

If you're not a vegan, you may want to rethink the rationale of your posting.

RoeD is right. Innocent people have been killed and injured by deer running in front of their car. There aren't enough natural predators to control the deer population in KS and some other states. If there were, we wouldn't have a deer hunting season in KS.

dinglesmith 7 years, 1 month ago

I have nothing against hunting. Quite the contrary. However, don't justify it for keeping the deer population down. KS doesn't have enough predators because of hunters and developers. Hunters and developers kill the predators reducing their number. One lost predator has huge ecological effects. Then deer feed from farm fields increasing their number even more. (I loved the comment about corn fed deer in the article.) That's why we have so many deer.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 1 month ago

Granted, there are not enough predators to help hunters keep the deer population down, and hunters are one of the main reasons there aren't more deer predators. But that does not mean that hunting is not needed to keep the deer population down, because it is.

What is ALSO needed are ways to reintroduce and maintain sustainable populations of predators by protecting the predators from being overharvesting by hunters as well. Of course, those predators will also take out some pets and livestock as well as control the deer, but this can be managed as well.

So here's to reintroducing and protecting deer predators. In the meantime hunters play a valuable role in helping keep the deer population in check (as do drivers, of course!).

deec 7 years, 1 month ago

I think wild deer have a much higher quality of life than the factory-farmed animals most people eat. I'm not a hunter, but wild game at least has a sporting chance. And we do have too many deer and not enough predators. I hate those "hunters" though, who lop off the head in the field and leave the meat. This was an issue out by Hays last year when I lived there.

swood2463 7 years, 1 month ago

I am not sure where Ladeeda4 grew up, must have been in the city. I grew up on a farm and the farm animals and hunted animals put food on the table. Where do you think your beef, pork, etc comes from? Do you consider them defenseless when you sit down at the dinner table?? I know for sure that the young man in this article hunts to put food on his table, he and his wife are raising four boys!! I know this because I am his mother (just call me MaMa Bear), and I also hunt!! Good job Shannon!! I also agree with RoeDapple, my husband hit a deer a few years back and it cost us $3500.00 to repair the vehicle. We do however, have a friend who runs an auto body repair service and he looooooves deer season!!

pace 7 years, 1 month ago

You have never been in the ring with a deer or a lamb. Vicious fighters, Many time herds of deer can take out giant packs of wolfs. Vegetarians don't have it so easy, I heard of several families completely taken out by sweet potato vines. Don't turn your back on them. Defenseless, you wish.

Sean Livingstone 7 years, 1 month ago

I have nothing against hunting... but you with a rifle versus a deer? And it's a man thing? Tiger or lion versus rifle... I understand.... be a man, use your bare hands or use bows and arrows!

RoeDapple 7 years, 1 month ago

It isn't about evening the odds. It is about a clean quick kill that reduces the animals suffering as much as possible. Done properly, the animal dies instantly or within seconds. I've seen deer weeks after the bow season with arrows stuck in them, and harvested deer that could not be eaten due to infection from arrow injuries. I am not against hunting by other means but feel firearms are currently the most efficient way to hunt.

midwestmom 7 years, 1 month ago

Have you ever been in a Car/Deer accident? People die sometimes in these accidents. My husband hit a big buck on Leary Road, early one morning. His car was completely totaled. The radiator was under the engine. I thank God the deer went over the car and not into it. He wouldn't have survived. As it was, with his seat belt on and the airbags deployed, he was cut up by the glass from his windshield, and bruised and sore from the airbag and seatbelt. He briefly thought the car was on fire from the airbag 'dust'. Yes, they are defenseless animals, but with the decrease of natural predators, the number of deer are staggering. When deer are in 'rut', the number of accidents skyrocket. I don't hunt, but I will eat deer meat, when it has been properly processed, especially by the guys in Overbrook. Deer chili is good and it also makes great spaghetti, with just a little pork sausage. Deer jerky is great.

libra101 7 years, 1 month ago

If your concern is cruelty to animals, then you should be in favor of the rifle over the bow, and definitely over the car. My husband is an avid hunter, who eats everything he kills, squirrels and rabbits included. He hit a doe with his arrow and she ran off and he spent 2 days looking for her. He talked to a bunch of people while he was looking and they had all lost deer they hit with the bow. Rifle hunting is the most humane way we have to control the deer population and one of the most humane ways of harvesting meat period. Short of packing up and turning the place over to them, that is.

hedgehog007 7 years, 1 month ago

A good bow hunter only takes a lung shot and drops the deer there. Bow hunting is hard, and it sounds like these hunters who are losing deer should just stick with the rifle. I know several men who bow hunt with a passion, and poor shots from inexperienced hunters that result in animal suffering and wasted deer (coyote food) is a major pet peeve of theirs. Bow hunting is much, much harder than rifle hunting, and it takes patience and dedication.

libra101 7 years, 1 month ago

He thought that was were he got her hedgehog. He doesn't want to bow hunt anymore, he's one of those guys who gets more upset at the suffering then he does the loss of the meat.

philcauthon 7 years, 1 month ago

Great read—nice to still occasionally see this kinda cultural journalism in our paper~

50YearResident 7 years, 1 month ago

Nice article Chad. It is a good story of what happens after the hunt (when the work begins).

Frederic Gutknecht IV 7 years, 1 month ago

The poor deer. If there was no hunting, perhaps deer would live forever. This is the way it should be in our utopian world. If deer do die, it should be due to toothed and/or clawed predator attacks or fighting with each other or starvation or being hit by cars. That is the natural way. Shooting deer with rifles is a far too efficient and humane means of harvest.

Humans should stick to growing crops, as nature intended.

Seriously, I continue to be astonished by the hatred of death or, I should say, of one type of death over another. It seems weird, especially coming from animals who have done their best to separate themselves from the reality of natural systems.

Can't we just all get along? I didn't think so.

Human overpopulation creates a far more inhumane and unsustainable life than the regulated harvest (murder, if you prefer) of deer.

I guess we should simply keep domesticating ourselves and the world. It's working so well for us!~P

Frederic Gutknecht IV 7 years, 1 month ago

I'm all about funny! ...and a sprinkling of horror!~) but mostly funny...

kaderast 7 years, 1 month ago

how true. Death by rifle shot is significantly more humane than a natural death by starvation, disease, freezing to death, coyotes, etc.

As a former Kansan that now lives in Montana, I know a large number of families in this state that literally could not afford to feed their families if it weren't for the 200 lbs of high quality protien a hunter can take from an elk. Out of state trophy hunters will even donate the meat from their kill to food banks throughout the state that is then ground into burger and dispersed along with canned goods!

Frederic Gutknecht IV 7 years, 1 month ago

It makes me sad that we seem to be as happy as "!PARC" (excuse my dyslexia) to separate ourselves as far as possible from the natural world...but nature always our end!~) !TIHS Did I say that?~) Gathering and hunting ain't badding...perioding... OK. This is getting too weird for even the specific population, now. Goodnight, General.

mom_of_three 7 years, 1 month ago

My step dad and step brother hunt and usually kill 1 deer each. They eat what they kill and deer jerky is pretty good. If you use what you kill and know what you are doing, then I don't have a problem with it.

labmonkey 7 years, 1 month ago

I took my two deer to Spring Hill. I cannot wait for them to call so I can make some deer steak stew.

TopJayhawk 7 years, 1 month ago

How have hunters gotten rid of the Natural predators? Other than Mountain Lions what are there?

TopJayhawk 7 years, 1 month ago

Okay guys. This is all my fault. I just blasted the last "T. Rex" yesterday. I still want one of you to tell me what natural predetors for deer in this area have been hunted out except for Mountain Lions? HMMMM?

slickmict 7 years, 1 month ago

Shot a buck this year with the Rage Broadhead at 32 yards. It ran 30 yards and fell over dead. Quick,clean kill and good eating.

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