Deer season is a busy time of year at butcher shops across the state, but this year most are getting less work than usual.
Keith Klein, owner of West Dakota Meats in Bismarck, said the shop processed 450 whole deer last year.
“Right now, that’s all we do,” he said. “It’s the biggest time of year for us — probably for anybody, I suppose.”
Klein said he and his employees have only processed 350 deer so far.
“Right now, I’d say it’s a little bit slower,” he said. “We can always make up for it by butchering hogs and cattle earlier.”
Double R Meats in Carson usually processes 200 deer a year, owner Rod Ruscheinsky said. So far this year, Ruscheinsky and his employees have done a little less than normal, with only 120 deer processed so far.
Ruscheinsky said a combination of bad weather during opening weekend and fewer available licenses in the area contributed to the drop in business. He expects to process a total of 150 to 175 by the end of the season.
Overall, there are 40 percent fewer deer licenses than a year ago. It’s the lowest number of deer tags since 1988.
“We don’t even count, but I can tell you it’s a little less than normal,” said Dan Kraft, owner of Butcher Block Meats in Mandan.
Kraft said fall, with deer season, is the busiest time of year at the shop. He runs two separate saws and two grinders to be able to continue processing beef while also processing deer. He said having a slow year just gives him and his workers more time to devote to other stuff.
“It’s almost a welcome little breather,” he said.
Dakota Packing Co. Inc. in Hettinger has processed more than100 deer so far, but usually does closer to 200.
“It’s going to be down,” said owner Ed Verhulst. He expects at least another 50 deer to come in by the end of the season.
Melinda Sigman, an employee at Hazen Meats Inc., said the company has definitely processed fewer deer than normal. So far, it has done about 40.
Sigman also cited a shift to more beef and pork processing as a result of high prices.
Sigman said the shop is expecting more hunters to bring in deer this weekend. Venison to be made into sausage usually comes in for several months after the season ends.
Ruscheinsky said his butcher shop still gets a lot of hunters as customers buying over-the-counter snack items.
In contrast, Scherrs Meats in Linton expects to process at least its normal 50 deer, manager Jeremy Kuntz said.
“We’re pretty close now,” he said.
Kuntz said deer season keeps employees busy for about four weeks.
“That’s where the money is,” he said.
Kuntz said even though there were not as many tags given out, hunters are still seeing a lot of deer in the area.
Dave Selensky, owner of Crockett Meats in Beach, focuses on wild game processing and doesn’t process beef like many other butcher shops. He’s only processed 30 deer, but he said that is a good number with the deer population being low.
“The tough past winters kind of took a toll on them, I guess,” he said. “The numbers are coming back though. A few more good winters and they’ll be back on track in a few years.”