By Jane Beathard
Sharon Fulton neither hunts deer nor eats venison, yet she’s an expert on moving a whitetail from woodlot to dinner table.
The Athens County resident is a deer processor.cher.
Over the years, she’s built a reputation for turning harvested animals into kitchen-ready roasts, steaks and burgers. But delectable venison summer sausage, snack sticks and jerky are the specialties of Fulton’s Wood Road Deer Processing and Smoke House in Albany, Ohio.
Hundreds of hunters beat a path to her smokehouse door annually. They deposit their kill, then wait a few days for Fulton to work her magic on it.
“It’s hard work that sometimes sucks,” she admitted.
Fulton reluctantly started her business 15 years ago at the suggestion of a neighbor. It remains a “mom-and-pop” effort, she said.
She cut up 45 deer during her first year of operation. That number now runs between 500 and 600 annually, thanks largely to her investment in a commercial smoker.
“It’s grown into more than I ever imagined,” she said.
Fulton works mostly alone between September and February. Extended family members pitch in to help during Ohio’s traditional gun-hunting week that follows Thanksgiving. It’s the butcher shop’s busiest time.
While a significant number of hunters dress-out their own deer, many simply don’t have the time or know-how, Fulton noted.
She charges $75 to process each animal, regardless of size or weight. Youth hunters sometimes get a price break. Orders for specialty meats cost extra by the pound.
Out-of-town hunters find her via Facebook. Otherwise, Fulton’s advertising is limited to make-shift road signs.
No deer enters her shop unless it is properly checked and field dressed, meaning it has been gutted with entrails and organs removed.
“Responsible hunters always field dress (their kill),” she said. “And I won’t take a deer lacking a tag.”
Beyond specialty meats, Fulton generally recommends processing a deer into as many roasts as possible.
“Roasts give customers more options. You can cut roasts into steaks or stew meat,” she said. “Lots of people like steaks.”
Fulton sells hides to an area broker. Any unclaimed or unwanted venison goes to the local chapter of Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, a charity that provides high-protein meat to needy families.
“There used to be more (venison) donated,” she observed. “The economy has impacted that.”
Fulton has grown attached to many regular customers.
“Hunters are the nicest, friendliest people in the world,” she said. “Some have become friends.”
WOOD ROAD DEER PROCESSING AND SMOKE HOUSE
8745 Wood Road, Albany, OH 45710
These recipes are from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife.
Quick and easy mini sandwiches. You can use slider buns, but for a quick and affordable option, cut hot dog buns in half, creating two mini buns perfect for sliders. They can be served with a side of cole slaw or southern style, with the slaw on the sandwich.
4 cups cooked venison
1 bottle BBQ sauce
Combine meat and sauce in a slow cooker or pan. Heat and pull the meat apart. It is ready to eat once it reaches your desired temperature.
VENISON VEGETABLE SOUP
A hearty soup that can be prepared with your canned meat and vegetables. Easily made with store-bought ingredients, as well.
1 quart canned meat, undrained
2 14.5-ounce cans green beans
2 14.5-ounce cans tomatoes, undrained
1 14.5-ounce can corn, drained
1 14.5-ounce can potatoes, drained
Salt and pepper to taste
1 medium onion
Garlic to taste
Combine and heat over stove or in a slow cooker. If using uncooked meat, brown it first with the onion and garlic, then add to vegetables.
Soup is ready to eat once it reaches your desired temperature.