Use the Whole Animal: 5 Uses For Non-Meat Deer Parts

Reader Contribution by Fala Burnette and Wolf Branch Homestead
1 / 5
2 / 5
3 / 5
4 / 5
5 / 5

In the world of deer hunting, it is common to see leftover parts of the hunt given new purpose through taxidermy and hide tanning. However, there are other surprising uses for the leftovers from processing that are commonly considered waste. If you or someone you know is interested in crafting with a recently taken deer, consider re-purposing these parts for a variety of projects.

Please note: When crafting with parts from any member of the Cervid family, including deer, elk, or moose, please note local regulations and use safety in order to help prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).

Legs: Bone Needles

The deer leg itself features many different pieces you can harvest and use for crafting. The hooves can be removed, the hide cut off and tanned, tendons harvested for sinew, and the bone saved for projects as well. In particular, we favor saving the bone for creating deer leg bone needles. These sturdy, practical needles can be used in sewing the hide of the same deer it came from. Nalbinding needles can be made in the same way, and some folks can even make bone folders used for book binding or origami.


Handmade deer leg bone needles we’ve made ourselves. Photo: Fala Burnette (Wolf Branch Homestead)

Fat: Tallow Candles

When processing your own deer, separating the fat from the meat is usually a part of saving that meat and may normally be discarded. Add your fat to its own container and make your own emergency candles from them. If having your deer processed elsewhere, ask the individual if they will save the fat for you. The fat must first be rendered by melting it down and straining it, and then the rendered tallow can be used to make candles by pouring it into heat-safe jars with a wick set into the jar. Steps for rendering tallow can easily be found when searching online or in print.

Tendons: Sinew

In processing a deer, a commonly favored area of meat is found in the backstrap. There lies a tendon in this area covering the backstrap, white in color that can be separated and dried for use in making sinew. For shorter pieces of sinew, the tendon running along the back of the deer’s legs can also be harvested. This makes for another great use when saving up deer legs. Once thoroughly dried, you can separate the fibers gently with the rounded end of a ball peen hammer or a smooth, round stone. Sinew can be used for a variety of cordage or sewing projects.

Pieces of harvested sinew/tendons from the lower leg of a deer. Photo: Fala Burnette (Wolf Branch Homestead)

Jaw: Sorghum Seed Stripper

After we grew our first batch of multicolor broomcorn sorghum, it was time to harvest the stalks to make our very own broom. The beautiful seeds littered the top of the sorghum, and I needed a way to effectively remove them without hurting my hands. I had an old piece a whitetail deer’s lower left jaw with the teeth still in it, and found the jaw bone to be the easiest way to strip the seeds by hand. Holding the sorghum in one hand and the jaw bone in the other, I made a combing motion away from myself with a bit of force applied. I quickly stripped the seeds from the broomcorn in this way.

A deer jaw bone laying between two miniature Sorghum brooms. The teeth work well for stripping Sorghum seeds. Photo: Fala Burnette (Wolf Branch Homestead)

Antler: Flint Knapping

Deer antlers are commonly saved for display on the wall, or are popularly used to make knife handles. They are also seen making lamps, dresser handles, coat hangers, and even wreaths. But a lesser known use for these antlers is flintknapping, making tools such as arrowheads in a more primitive way. The thick base of the antler is used as a billet, while the tine is cut and separated from the base and used for a pressure flaker. These two tools are important in the shaping of an arrowhead, and can be sourced from your own hunt or a friend/family member that hunts. Did you save your sinew from the legs or backstrap? Use this to fasten your arrowhead tightly to the arrow shaft.

Two different Whitetail antlers, perfect for a use in a wide variety of crafts. Photo: Fala Burnette (Wolf Branch Homestead)

In conclusion, I hope that during the next hunting season, if you or someone you know harvests a deer and you are interested in reducing waste while also trying out a few new crafts, that you will consider these ideas. There are so many ways to repurpose other parts of the deer, whether that be a fishing hook made from the nasal cavity bone or wind chimes made from the dried leg bones. Using your creativity and a little hard work can yield some surprising crafts made from deer!

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

Hunting deer is the most inexpensive, environmentally friendly way to acquire organic, grass-fed meat. Even if you’ve never held a gun before, author Jackson Landers can show you how to supplement your food supply with venison taken near your home. He addresses everything a new hunter needs to know: how to choose the correct rifle and ammunition, how to hunt effectively and safely, and what to do if something goes wrong. He includes chapters on field dressing and butchering after the kill, recipes for using the meat, and a chapter on the politics and psychology of hunting. Whether you hunt to be more self-sufficient, to eat the safest and most nutritious meat possible, to protect the environment, or to save money, this book is the perfect guide. Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.