Processors staying busy through hunting seasons

·4 min read

Dec. 31—Bow hunting season ends Jan. 15, and butchers are preparing their last rounds of meat before closing up shop.

Local meat processing shops largely dress deer, but they also do elk, hogs, and other big game.

Reyes Ortega owns Park Hill Processing across the street from the Hunter's Home in Park Hill, and he does jerky, summer sausage, and hot links, but he says that if the customer can imagine it, he'll do his best to accommodate.

"If they want us to do summer sausage, jerky, we've got different flavors. We have summer sausage, jalapeño and cheese, and normal summer sausage. We try to do custom processing, if anyone likes something different, we can try that as well. Our main goal is to have our customers pleased," said Ortega.

They will also cut and tenderize steaks. Some prefer to do it themselves.

The most popular is summer sausage.

"People really like it," he said. "I'm proud of what we are doing. You can see the reaction when they come back."

This year has been good for business. Park Hill Processing has increased its production 40 percent from last year.

At Lowrey's Deer Processing in Stone Chapel, Jimbo Lowrey also reported an increase in business.

"It's been really good this year. A lot of it is because grocery prices have gone up," said Lowrey.

He also noticed an increase in children and youth who are accompanying their parents and grandparents on hunting trips.

"We've been very blessed this year with deer and a lot of new hunters — a lot of young hunters. We greet customers as they come. Young people come with a big smile on their face with their first deer. There was a young man and his dad videotaped him taking down his first deer. That was the best thing I've seen all season," he said.

Lowrey's Deer Processing will also process other large game. This year, they processed five elk. They also process hogs. After January, they will close up shop.

Park Hill Processing also closes up shop in January, but because hogs are in season year-round, Ortega will accept jobs throughout the year.

Ortega has noticed that this year, a number of hunters have brought animals from out of state. In addition to deer and elk, he has seen buffalo from Alaska, mule deer from the northern states, and antelope from the west.

The meat from feral hogs is tougher and leaner than pigs purchased at a store. When hogs are particularly tough, rather than slicing bacon, he recommends making sausage.

"We try to make the product look good. If it looks good, it will taste good," he said.

Ortega came into the business after working in a packing house as a custom butcher. After the USDA came down on processing wild game and farm animals in the same plant, he decided to branch out and start processing deer for extra income.

"The owner of a packing house told me to consider opening a shop. At that time, we didn't want to let go of our customers. We wanted to provide a new service in a different location. I left the packing house to do wild game. I've been growing it since we've started it," he said.

He started the shop in 2014.

Lowrey has been butchering for most of his life. He learned by watching his parents butcher. He recently retired from Harp's where he butchered. He loves butchering because it serves a purpose in society. With Americans increasing the amount of meat in their diet, he doesn't see himself losing work any time soon.

"One thing about butchering, I always get to work. I never wonder if I'm going to eat. I love it. The pay is pretty good. It's been paying my bills for most of my life," he said.

When dealing with big game, many hunters, like OSU Extension agriculture educator for the OSU Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County Garrett Ford, prefer to hire butchers like Lowrey's or Park Hill Processing. For small game, he prefers to butcher himself, especially since most large processing facilities won't butcher small game.

"I process the rabbit and squirrel myself at home because it is easy and relatively mess free. I normally gut — or field dress — my deer and deliver them to a processor. Eventually, I would like to process my own deer, but I currently do not have the means," said Ford.

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