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A Pound Of Flesh

Jeff Ell SmallLast year, someone asked me “if I had any extra venison?”  It was an innocent question asked by a non-hunter who had never killed, gutted, butchered, and packaged a deer. I suppose they thought the meat magically flew off of the bone, and that our family had tons of unwanted cutlets collecting freezer burn in an old chest freezer.

The question got me thinking about the cost of a pound of deer flesh.  So I did me some ciphering on my phone calculator while sitting up in my tree stand last week.

First, it seemed good to approach the subject from a macroeconomic perspective.

My hunting friends on the western slope of the Appalachians are always going on about the price indexes, fur futures, tipping points and such, so I started sniffing around the world wide web for some facts and figures about hunting. I wanted to crunch some of the numbers myself to learn, if possible, how much a deer is worth.

I was surprised to learn that Americans spend about $25,000,000,000 on hunting each year, (that’s not a typo, its twenty-five billion) and that approximately 7,000,000 deer are harvested annually. I plugged these numbers into my phone and was shocked to see that each deer is worth about $3,500.00 to the American economy. 

I was also thinking how much better my life would have been if I had a phone calculator when I was learning long division in the eleventh grade.

Next, I estimated that on average, each deer yields about fifty pounds of meat. This is actually a pretty generous estimate. Sure, every now and again we might get a big bodied deer, but if we hunters are honest, we also know that a good portion of those seven million deer are not much larger than a decent sized dog, and that occasionally some hunters have actually had to cut off the diapers from some of the deer they shoot.

Everyone, and yes I mean everyone, who has ever taken a deer to a butcher for processing already knows how little meat actually comes off a deer. First timers who take their kill to someone else to cut up are always amazed how those meat magicians in the white coats were able to get their big old buck to fit into that little bitty box. Makes a man wonder if those guys have a young gal festooned in sequins folded up under the counter who is waiting to jump out uninjured by all those knives and saws.

The disillusioned hunter drives home with their shoe box of meat sitting next to them on the front seat of the truck while thinking dark thoughts about butchers pinching their back straps. When they get home they go to the basement and unplug the new chest freezer, and then stow the little packages side by side in the kitchen next to the popsicles and frozen waffles.

They take a solemn vow to cut up their own deer next time. And that is exactly what they do. The string up their next deer in the back yard, pull off the hide, strip flesh from bone, pluck hair from steaks, slice, dice, wrap, bag; and abracadabra, they discover their own knives have been endued with the same shrinking power wielded by those tricky butchers.

Once I settled on an average per deer yield of 50 pounds, I divided $3,500.00 and came up with the jaw dropping price $70.00 per pound, or $4.35 per ounce. Four dollar bites. I swallowed hard and let out a groan of disbelief.

Unfortunately, my groan spooked a doe that had crept up on me, unaware, while I was preoccupied with all my formulas and calculations. She wheezed, snorted, and trotted off with her blue blooded fawns and high priced tail waving good bye. I’m pretty sure that when she got out of sight, she loaded her kids into her Range Rover and drove off to a soccer game in a huff.

Regardless of how we crunch the numbers, hunting is big business. Here are some other interesting facts I learned:

-There are more than ten million hunters in America and the industry creates more than a million jobs.

-Each year hunters spend more money on food for hunting trips than Americans spend on Domino’s pizza.

-Hunters spend more money on their dogs alone than skiers spend on their gear.

Next time I’m sitting in my tree stand, I’m going to do some ciphering on how much it costs the average hunter to put meat in the freezer. Until then, you might want to think twice before trying to beg meat from your hunting friends.

– Jeff Ell is pretty good at catching, killing, picking, and growing things to eat. He regularly finds bemusement in the outdoors and enjoys telling his stories to anyone who will listen. Jeff’s is the author of Ruth Uncensored and blogs at

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