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With COVID meat locker demands, now's good time for do-it-yourself processing

The Outdoors
Lead Summary
Scott Rall, outdoors columnist

For nearly 40 years I’ve purchased a deer license, but in that time I’ve harvested only about five deer.
That’s because I get more enjoyment from watching others being successful than harvesting a deer for my personal use. Last year alone on a property I own, I mentored five kids 12 years of age or younger to their very first successful deer hunt. That makes my day and my season a success.
One of the conditions of hunting on my property is that the person who shoots the deer needs to be the one who field dresses it. They can have help but this is an integral part of deer hunting and is something every deer hunter should be able to do.
The majority of deer hunters will field dress their deer and then at some point take it into the local locker to have it processed into their favorite products. These include steaks, roasts, jerky, meat sticks, summer sausage and venison hamburger. Others will do all of this work on their own in a garage or kitchen somewhere.
This year might very well be the first time this option is no longer available in all areas of the state to the rank and file. As a result of COVID-19, many commercial pork and beef processing plants were either shut down or operating at far less than 100 percent capacity.
This left thousands of hogs and cattle unable to be brought to market. You could buy a whole hog in my county for as little as $50 a few months ago, and hundreds of folks did just that.
The backlog at local locker plants is such that many of these small businesses are not taking any deer for processing this fall. I did call around and learned that in your area the processors are not following this trend.
The lockers in Leota, Hills, Lismore, Worthington and Pipestone are all processing deer if you bring it in with the bones removed. The locker in Ellsworth is the only one not taking deer at all. Some of those businesses accept deer that are quartered and some have limited the products you can choose from.
Depending on where you live, this processing issue is one that you need to address before you have a deer field-dressed and hung in the garage.
Processing your own deer is not all that hard, but you do need the proper tools and equipment to do so. There are all kinds of do-it-yourself processing equipment available like meat grinders, slicers and vacuum sealers. They range greatly in price and will cost you far more than your deer license to purchase.
If you have never done it before, I am sure that the learning curve might take a little time to master, but I can say that some of the best hunting memories in my memory bank include the socialization with family and friends while processing deer in the days that followed the hunt.
If you start processing your own deer, I can guarantee there have to be hundreds of videos on YouTube that will show you the basics.
There are more and more people that are paying attention to where the food they eat comes from. Eating a deer that has never been treated with antibiotics like many commercial meats contain will bring you that back to understanding the most basic of man and nature interaction.
There is a measurable segment of new hunters joining the ranks that are taking up hunting primarily to consume the game they kill because of its pure origin. Don’t get me wrong, I love deep fat fried everything but more and more folks will harvest their own game and process it themselves to achieve the goal of knowing its origin.
Current hunters already know this, but if you take up processing your own game, it will bring you a little closer to the roots of harvest. Lockers do great work but you could spend those same dollars on an additional license in another state. That could be a good trade.
Scott Rall, Worthington, is a habitat conservationist, avid hunting and fishing enthusiast and is president of Nobles County Pheasants Forever. He can be reached at or on Twitter @habitat champion.

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