Serving up part of yearly bumper crop
Michial Coffman doesn't mind getting a middle-of-the-night phone call from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.
It means it's his turn to remove a deer carcass from a roadway.
"I say, 'All I have to do is put on my shoes. I keep a gutting knife in the truck,'" the 56-year-old Lecompton man said.
Coffman is one of about a dozen people who are on a list sheriff's officers can call when a deer meets its demise at the front of an automobile bumper. He's been on that list for nearly 20 years.
"This really adds to my food storage," he said.
Coffman takes the deer carcass home and uses his own equipment to butcher and process the meat. He has three freezers for storage.
The deer meat allows Coffman to save about $500 annually on food bills, he said. He injured his back several years ago in a traffic accident and lives on a limited income provided by disability payments.
He has a pulley system on his truck to help him lift and move the carcasses. Sometimes a sheriff's deputy or Kansas Highway Patrol trooper will help him get the deer off the road, he said.
Coffman doesn't sell any of the deer meat. Whitetail deer, which is the most commonly hunted deer in this area and which is often the cause of traffic accidents, are wild animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn't allow meat from wild deer to be sold. Redtail deer are domesticated, farm-raised animals and its meat can be sold if it is USDA inspected.
Whitetail deer meat can, however, be given away, and Coffman said he is generous with his extra meat.
"There are other people who are worse off than I am and I will give packages of meat to those who are less fortunate," he said.
A busy season
Steve's Meat Market in De Soto is a popular place this time of year with deer hunters. Missouri is in the middle of the season when deer can be hunted with rifles. In Kansas it is the middle of bow deer hunting season. Hunters from both sides of the line bring their trophy deer to Steve's to be processed.
On Nov. 29, the firearm season for hunting deer begins in Kansas.
"It will be a zoo around here," said Mitch Prudden, who runs the market his family has owned since 1969.
Prudden estimates his market receives and processes 500 deer carcasses during the deer hunting seasons. Most of the hunters want deer chops, leg steaks and hind steaks, he said. Using a power saw and a butcher knife it usually takes only a few minutes to cut up a deer.
"It depends on how you cut it up, it's size and how bad it's shot up, but usually it takes about five or 10 minutes," Prudden said. "Working a knife at any speed takes practice to do it safely. I've been doing it all my life."
If you want sausage from the deer, it could be done in about a week, Prudden said. "If things are hectic around here you can wait two weeks, even three weeks."
The standard $75 processing of deer includes skinning, butchering, cooling, wrapping and freezing. The cost is extra if you want different types of sausage.
In most cases, even deer that have been struck by cars or trucks still have quality meat on them, Coffman said. There is only about 40 to 60 pounds of meat that can be eaten on most deer, he said.
Coffman uses deer meat to make soup, chili and "thin steaks rolled in flour."
"There are a thousand different ways you can cook deer meat," he said.
Stories to be told
Deer hunters bring more than just the results of their hunt when they go to Steve's Market, Prudden said. They also have stories to tell, some better than others, he said.
Prudden doesn't have to think hard to come up with one.
"One lady brought in a deer," he said. "She hit it on the road, it went through the front windshield, all the way through the car, and was hanging out the back windshield. Before she went to the hospital she brought her deer in to process it.
"Now that one's different," he said.