As deer season gets underway, hunters will be on their own regarding deer meat processing, especially for whole carcasses.
Offers to turn harvested deer into cuts of meat haven’t exactly been lighting up social media, according to local outdoorsman Mark Harmon.
“After Minnesota cracked down on 'garage processors,' no one is posting a thing on it,” he said,
Starting Aug. 1, Minnesota began requiring small-time deer processors to obtain licenses through the Department of Agriculture’s meat program. Although the license only costs $100, its requirements may be cost-prohibitive – including hot and cold running water, a sink for hand washing, nonporous walls, floors and ceilings and a commercial cooler.
Harmon added that meat processing businesses “seem to stay away from processing deer, as people get too picky about it and the general public is not great about pre-boning or skinning the deer to cool the meat off.”
The owners of meat shops in the area confirmed that they’ve stepped back from processing whole deer, if they ever did.
“We haven’t done deer for about 10 years,” said Del Karl, owner of Meyer’s Meat Market in Nevis.
Owner Craig Mackey confirmed that the Laporte Grocery will only process deer meat off the bone, turning it into ground meat, bratwurst, summer sausage or meat sticks.
“That’s what we’ve always done,” he said. “We don’t cut up the animal. We just process the meat.”
Jason Shepersky, owner of Shephersky’s Meat Processing in Menahga, said they won’t be processing deer this year, either. In this case, that’s a change from the usual, due to COVID-19.
“It’s just the contact with people,” he said. “Too many people around. I guess that’d be the reason.”
According to co-owner Ryan Brandenburg, Main Street Meats in Park Rapids is in its fourth year of not doing whole carcass deer processing.
“We just take bones trimmed for making sausage and grinding people’s meat for them, if they want it ground with beef or pork, or just straight,” he said. “We do the grinding, too.”
Asked why they moved away from butchering deer, Brandenburg said, “It was tough to find the help to go forth and deal with all them deer. It was a lot of hours. We just cut that out and focused on making sausage, instead.”
Local meat businesses have plenty of work as it is, the owners said.
“We’ve just been very busy,” said Mackey. “I don’t know what to attribute that to.”
“It’s busier than ever,” Shepersky said, connecting this year’s boom in business, at least initially, with larger plants shutting down due to COVID-19. “When they first did, yeah, we got tons of calls then. But we just haven’t caught up from when that first outbreak came.”
Meanwhile, Brandenburg said Main Street Meats quit processing livestock meat a year and a half ago.
“We’ve gotten so busy with our front end, our retail portion of it, with all our sausage we’re making and all our varieties of stuff we make, that we just got out of that field,” he said. “We do over 100 varieties of sausage, so that takes up a lot of time.”
Brandenburg recognized, though, that “we could have been as busy as we wanted to be. We could have been cutting pigs and cows back in April and May, when people were looking like crazy for stuff like that, but we just got out of it. It was too time-consuming.”
As for their advice for hunters seeking someone to cut up their deer, Mackey said, “Everybody’s gonna have to be pretty much doing it themselves, I think.”
The solution may still be online, just not in the form of offers from garage processors on social media.
“I learned 95 percent of how to process my own game from watching videos on YouTube,” said Harmon. “I personally process our own deer with (my son) and my dad in my shop. Occasionally, we will drop off some processed venison to Main Street Meats to have them make summer sausage. We invested in a lot of nice butcher-grade equipment and are comfortable with our work.”
Additional reporting by Karen Tolkkinen for the Alexandria Echo-Press.