Harvesting a deer may be the most-important aspect of the hunt for deer hunters, but enjoying the venison is also a priority for most. After the harvest, most hunters have a routine for processing a deer; many take it to a processor and check off what cuts or items they want made from the meat.

There's nothing wrong with that; it works and there's venison in the freezer to enjoy.

But going one or two simple steps further will enrich and expand the uses of the meat you have. As one hunter has discovered it can be an enjoyable and fun process for the whole family.

Drew Reeser of Blythewood, S.C., is typical of many hunters in that when he shoots a deer, he takes it to a processer. However he has a simple plan to make the most of his meat once he gets it home.

"At the processor, I now get just the basic cuts of meat, mostly ground venison and sometimes the loins, but nothing special," he said. "In the past I have had summer sausage, snack sticks, spicy sausage and other refined venison foods made by the processer. I started reading up on the subject, and since I love outdoor cooking and doing things myself, I discovered that with a little effort and not much investment, I can do about anything I want with that processed ground venison myself.

"Most importantly, I can make it precisely the way I want it in terms of flavor mixtures" Reeser said. "I've experienced different styles and have now refined it so I know exactly what I and my family enjoy most."

Reeser said in addition to summer sausage and snack sticks, it's also easy to make venison sausage as well as other unique items including jerky, bologna, salami, and even more exotic blends such as andouille.

"Regardless of what you want to make, there are recipes online and even books," he said. "But you can get the blends prepackaged from places such as Hi Mountain (www.himtnjerky.com) or the LEM Backwoods seasonings (www.lemproducts.com). For many blends, you can get an inexpensive package of ingredients that comes complete with the proper cures and seasonings. Or find a recipe you like and start from scratch. We do both."

Reeser said it has become a fun family event with his wife, Kim, and 10-year old daughter Caitlyn.

"We experiment and taste-test, and one of our favorites is the snack sticks with cheese, spices and jalapeno peppers added," Kim Reeser said. "Simply take some ground venison from the processer and let it thaw. Cut up very small chunks of cheddar cheese and jalapeno peppers. Cut as much or as little as you want in your mixture. Some experimentation will help you figure out what you like best. Mix them along with the specific blend of snack stick you want, such as hickory, pepperoni or garlic blends with the cure and combine it all in a mixing bowl.

"We use a Kitchen Aid mixer, but you can do it by hand. Then, using a very inexpensive 'gun', you can distribute the mixture into the snack casings that come with the packaged seasonings, or you can buy casings online or at many retail stores."

Drew Reeser said it's easy to expand if you enjoy the process.

"We've gone a step further, and the family now has a hand-crank stuffer that our daughter, Caitlyn, can use to fill a variety of different-sized casings," Drew Reeser said. "Then we put them in an outdoor cooker and slow-cook and smoke until the internal temperature is such that the meat is properly cooked. Then we cut the size strips we want, vacuum seal or use a Ziplock plastic bag, and store."

Reeser said the summer sausage is really easy to make.

"For summer sausage, you simply mix the ingredients with ground venison and literally stuff the mix by hand into a large, 3-inch (diameter) casing," he said. "I recommend you get it full and tight to eliminate air bubbles. Put on the outdoor cooker and slow cook with smoke, and it's the best summer sausage I've ever eaten, and as a side benefit, it's a lot of fun to make."

Reeser said you can get into the process a little deeper and make things easier with some equipment purchases.

"You can get into this for very little money, or you can spend more for equipment upgrades," he said. "That's a personal choice everyone can make once they try the simple method."

Reeser said you can finish the processed meats either in the oven or in a smoker as long as you get it to the recommended temperature to ensure the meat is fully cooked.

"I generally use the outdoor cooker to add real smoke flavor, because that's what my family and friends prefer," he said. "But some items, such as bologna and salami, can be cooked in an oven for a more realistic flavor."

Reeser said the process of being versatile with venison has expanded to more than just his daughter and wife.

"One of the most fun days we've had was with a big group of family members and friends," he said. "We made a huge variety of venison products that we all shared at the end of the day. If you do this, I recommend you get on the team that does the actual smoking of the meats, because there's got to be some quality control, which means considerable taste-testing.

"Shooting a deer is fun, but getting versatile with your venison just adds year-round enjoyment to that harvest," he said. "When we run out of something we enjoy eating, we just make more."