Published November 15, 2009, 08:10 AM

Bucks to buckskin: Where the hides go

It’s a full-circle concept. A hunter shoots a buck in Northeastern Minnesota. The hide is tanned in southern Minnesota. Then it’s shipped to Duluth, where it’s made into a pair of gloves. And the gloves are sold by retailers in Northeastern Minnesota.

By: Sam Cook- Duluth News Tribune, Northland Outdoors

It’s a full-circle concept. A hunter shoots a buck in Northeastern Minnesota. The hide is tanned in southern Minnesota. Then it’s shipped to Duluth, where it’s made into a pair of gloves. And the gloves are sold by retailers in Northeastern Minnesota.

The concept seems logical to Jared Rinerson, who grew up deer hunting near Cherry. Four years ago, when he was looking for a business to buy, it seemed natural to buy one that tanned deer hides.

He bought the Uber Tanning Co. in Owatonna, Minn., which has been in business since 1904. Now Rinerson and business partner Chris Benson of Duluth have forged an alliance with the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association that benefits deer habitat while turning hides into gloves, mittens and other products.

“I think it’s really cool,” said Rinerson, 37. “It’s the only place in the country you can send a deer hide and have something made from it.”

This fall, Rinerson, who lives in Ham Lake, Minn., and Benson opened another manufacturing plant in Duluth, where six employees now make mittens, gloves and other deerskin garments. They chose Duluth because they found employees who had experience sewing heavy fabrics such as canvas and leather.

This year, Uber Tanning will buy about 8,000 deer hides from MDHA’s Hides for Habitat program. The hides will be tanned in Owatonna, and many of them will be made into mittens, gloves, gun cases, tote bags and other items in Duluth. They’ll be sold at retail outlets across the Upper Midwest such as

L & M Supply and Scheels stores, Rinerson said.

Each year, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, based in Grand Rapids, collects and sells 30,000 to 40,000 deer hides. Since 1985, MDHA’s Hides for Habitat Program has collected nearly 700,000 deer hides, generating more than $3.5 million for statewide habitat projects, said MDHA executive director Mark Johnson. Deer hides are worth about $5 to $9 each, Johnson said.

“We’ve been talking about the potential of getting more exposure for Hides for Habitat, to work with an American-made thing,” MDHA’s Johnson said. “All of a sudden, instead of American-made, it’s Minnesota-made. It couldn’t be any better.”

Rinerson agrees.

“Everyone asks us what happens to those Hides for Habitat,” Rinerson said. “So, next year, you’ll see Hides for Habitat mittens and gloves. I’m excited.”

Uber Tanning Co. also acquired the Duluth-based Frost River brand in September and will continue to make the waxed canvas products formerly made by that company.

“With the deals we’ve set up, we’re growing and plan on doing a lot of our growth in Duluth,” Rinerson said.

Hunters may drop off their deer hides at the orange Hides for Habitat collection points at many registration stations. Hunters also may drop their own deer hides at Trophy Hides in Duluth, a division of Uber Tanning’s business that makes custom gloves, mittens or other products.

At their Duluth office on Wednesday, Rinerson lifted the leather briefcase he carries.

“That was my mule deer last year,” he said.

Deer hide makes exceptional gear, Rinerson said.

“It’s soft, and if it gets wet, it dries soft,” he said. “It has the highest tensile strength of any leather. It is the premium garment in glove leather.”

It’s one thing to shoot a deer. Now a hunter can shoot a deer and wear it.

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