Cut to video that sharpens skills


November 09, 2003|By CANDUS THOMSON

What do hunters and Brutus have in common?

Both have been accused of inflicting the "most unkindest cut of all."

Brutus came by his reputation honestly after his famous dustup with Julius Caesar (Shakespeare, Act 3, Scene 2). Deer hunters -- not all, mind you -- innocently earn theirs at chow time, as diners gnaw the main course into submission.

Watching someone who knows how to turn a deer into delicious roasts and steaks is a humbling experience, much like watching a master decoy carver. My grandpa, who worked part time as a butcher to augment his railroad pay, was a wizard. I have the scars to prove I am not.

So it is with great humility that I introduce you to "Wild Game John" Ryan, one of those handy guys who knows what to do with a hog before he brings home the bacon and fries it up in a pan.

The Harford County hunter and second-generation butcher has produced a video that could sharpen almost anyone's skills.

John O. Ryan learned from his dad, John A. Ryan, who ran a slaughterhouse and butcher shop on patriarch J.O. Ryan's farm on (can you stand it?) Ryan Road. It would be an understatement to call the Ryans a Harford institution.

If practice makes perfect, three decades of working at the family shop have made John Ryan a 10. He started cleaning the holding pens and killing floor then got promoted to the boning table before being allowed to be a full-fledged meat cutter.

When firearms season came each year, the family moved into the butcher shop to ensure a round-the-clock operation on the 1,500 animals dropped off by hunters.

Ryan even met his wife, Pam, at the slaughterhouse, when as a teen she was sent by her family to buy a roast.

So when it comes to butchering a deer, literally and figuratively, Ryan has seen it all.

"They field dress it wrong. They skin it wrong. They cut it wrong. If you don't do it right, the meat is bitter. If they cut against the grain, it's tough. ... One guy didn't even skin it out. He just cut it up and threw it in the freezer," he says. "What we get at the butcher shop is unbelievable."

He first thought of making a video about three years ago and quickly enlisted his wife. The two are used to working on projects together, from their family general contracting company to the sub shop in Fork that they used to own.

The show, shot by Fulford Productions in Lutherville, takes each step slowly with the cameras moving in close to let you see each cut.

The best part is, you don't even have to buy up all the slicing and dicing gadgets hawked by Ronco pitchman Ron Popeil.

"It's not anything you don't already have in the garage," says Pam Ryan, who learned butchering from her husband 16 years ago.

For the Ryans, the hard part of the whole video-making experience came in post-production. They had the tapes, but they didn't know how to put them in customers' hands.

After the corporate types at the big-box retail stores barely gave them the time of day, the Ryans took their tapes out west in February, selling them at four outdoors expos.

"A lot of the men were too proud to purchase it, but their wives came back later to buy it," Pam says, laughing.

Back home, they're selling a half-dozen tapes a week -- nothing to retire on, but an encouraging sign for first-timers, they say.

Who needs the Ryans' video?

Given state bag limits, an avid hunter who takes advantage of all the seasons is able to put an almost unlimited number of deer in the deep freezer. Butchers are charging $65-$80 a deer. That's a lot of bucks -- or dough -- to shell out.

Compare that to the video, which is $9.95 plus the 5 percent sales tax (that's 50 cents) and $5.95 for shipping and handling. You can order it online at or by sending a check or money order to Wild Game John, Inc., 509 Ruth Ave., Bel Air MD 21015.

But wait, there's more, as Popeil would say.

For hunters who buy the video and still have problems, "feel free to call me," says John. "If you're local to me, I'll come over there to help you. If you're not nearby, I'll talk you through it."

That number is 410-569-2036.

In Julius Caesar, Cassius was said to have a "lean and hungry look."

After a session or two with Ryan's video, your friends and family around the dinner table may look that way, too.

This and that

Saturday is Youth Deer Hunt Day in Maryland.

This will be the ninth year the state has set aside a day before the start of the modern firearms season for hunters 16 years of age and younger to shoot antlered or antlerless deer.

Each youngster must be accompanied by an unarmed adult at least 21 years of age who holds a Maryland hunting license or is exempt from the state's hunting license requirements.

A young hunter may shoot one white-tailed doe or buck in each of the four Deer Management Regions or one sika deer in Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico or Worcester counties.

Last year, young deer hunters killed 1,807 deer, with more than half of the critters coming from the four western-most counties.

The two-week modern firearms season begins Nov. 29, with Nov. 30 being the first time Sunday hunting with firearms will be permitted since colonial times. Remember, Sunday hunting will be allowed only on private land in Allegany, Calvert, Caroline, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Garrett, Kent, Queen Anne's, St. Mary's, Talbot and Washington counties.

DNR is required to report the outcome of the Sunday hunt to the legislature by Jan. 15.

To brush up on the rules and regulations and see what's new this year, go on the Internet to

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