Life might not be too busy to bowhunt, but it might be too busy to process the venison from your kill. If that’s the case, you’ll benefit from finding a high-quality venison processor to do it for you.
We spoke with Jennifer Davis, a member of Davis Meat Processing LLC in Jonesburg, Missouri, to get tips and advice regarding what to look for when exploring the options. Davis Meat started in 1984 and processes an average of 25,000 pounds of venison annually. It has over 1,700 likes on Facebook and dozens of positive reviews. Davis shared five signs of a high-quality processor:
When you arrive at a processor, the outside appearance will likely tell you a lot about the operation. Davis said if the premises and building are tidy, clean and well kept, chances are the inside is, too. She recommends using all your senses to evaluate the operation. Things shouldn’t smell foul, you shouldn’t touch greasy or dusty surfaces, and you should see blood, deer hair and carcasses only in the drop-off, skinning and butchering areas, not at the main counter.
The employees should understand where things come from on the deer and what products they offer, as well as what you can expect in terms of meat yields, pickup dates and associated costs. Staff members should be open about their process and operation and willing to answer any questions you have. Also, Davis said most processors are short-staffed so someone might not greet you right away, but you also shouldn’t have to wait long.
A meat processor has the right to refuse deer and it should, especially if a hunter brings in a deer that wasn’t handled properly. Davis said her facility has “turned away and offended many people” to protect its business and the health of its customers.
“If hunters don’t properly field-dress the deer, hit it in the guts or (the deer) is already souring, we don’t accept it,” Davis said. “If we have too many deer in line waiting to be skinned, we turn people away until we can get caught up. It irritates people, but we don’t take the chance of someone’s meat spoiling.” It might be inconvenient to be turned away, but it’s a sign of a good-quality processor.
Davis said a good processor will label your deer in some way to ensure you get back the correct meat (roasts, backstraps, tenderloins, etc.) and the correct amounts (ground or specialty meats like sausage and snack sticks). “When we receive a deer, it gets a white tag with the hunter’s (information),” she said. “The facility must have a way to distinguish which deer is yours.” However, specialty meats are co-mingled unless requested to be kept separate, which does have an additional charge.
Deer should be treated carefully to minimize damage and spoiling. Davis said if you pull up to a facility and there’s a pile of deer that look like they’ve been sitting there awhile, that’s a red flag. Meat needs to be handled in a timely manner and should be chilled as soon as possible.
If the processor checks out, great! If something’s off or giving you a funny feeling, Davis said to ask a question about it. Hopefully, a staff member can provide clarity and put your concerns to rest, but if you can’t get a good answer from them and still feel uncomfortable, trust your gut and go elsewhere. “You can say, ‘Thanks for your time; I’m going to explore other options,’” Davis said. You don’t have to leave your deer, but you don’t have to make a scene either. You can leave discreetly and find somewhere you feel comfortable.
If you have several reputable processors in the area, don’t be afraid to shop around. Consider the specialty meat options available and costs. Some processors offer samples to try; you just have to ask. Davis Meat charges $165 to skin, portion, debone and grind select cuts, as well as properly dispose of the carcass. They charge more for specialty items like jerky and sausage, about $3.50 to $4.90 per pound depending on the product.
Davis recommends that hunters clarify final costs and what’s included. For example, Davis Meat adds pork and spices to some specialty meats and charges for the “green” (or raw) meat weight, not the cooked meat weight. So, if a hunter brings in 10 pounds of venison and Davis Meat adds 3 pounds of pork and spices, the hunter will pay for 13 pounds of green meat. However, they may receive just 11 or 12 pounds of meat because the raw weight varies from the cooked weight.
You can ask other hunters you know for their recommendations. Or, Davis said, most states have meat processing associations that list their members. For example, Davis Meat is a member of the Missouri Association of Meat Processors, which is affiliated with the American Association of Meat Processors. A simple Google search should yield promising results.
If you run into a dead end, Davis said some state wildlife agencies or agriculture departments list meat processors on their websites. You can also look for venison donation programs in your state. Most of those organizations partner with meat processors, which is a good indication that they’re reputable.