Meat Lockers Depend on Annual Deer Harvest

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Mike Wyss and his employees at the Russellville Locker and Feed Plant are breathing a sigh of relief these days. Between mid-November and the end of December, they did about a quarter of their annual business. The pace was frantic, but Wyss isn't complaining. Without the flurry of business provided by deer hunting season, he would have a much harder time keeping his business in the black. Wyss' father, Howard, started the family business in 1949. Back then, cattle, hogs and other domestic livestock made up 100 percent of their business. That is how it stayed until the growth of Missouri's deer herd changed business as usual.

"Deer became a big part of our business about 20 years ago," says Wyss. "We were fortunate. Starting in the late '80s, our beef and pork business shut down. For some packers then, deer made up 60 to 70 percent of their gross. It was a long time between Novembers." Now Wyss's deer-processing business commences with the opening of archery deer season Sept. 15. The volume increases slowly as that season progresses, and then there is a huge increase when firearms deer season opens.

During the 11-day November firearms deer season, the Russellville Locker and Feed Plant takes in 450 whole deer. Another 200 to 300 deer arrive as boned meat dressed in the field. By the time December's muzzleloader and antlerless-only deer seasons are done, Wyss and his staff have processed approximately 1,000 deer. Some hunters want basic meat packing service. For $70 Russellville Locker and Feed skins the deer, cuts it into steaks, roasts, loins and chops and wraps and freezes it.

However, most hunters want their kills turned into specialty products ranging from summer sausage, smoked hams and jerky to bologna, bratwurst, breakfast sausage and venison burger ground together with bacon.

Specialty meats are meat processors' bread and butter, because they involve more work, not to mention secret seasonings. More processing means more income for Wyss' business and more pay for his workers. During deer season he hires six to eight extra meat cutters to handle the rush.

Roger Alewel of the Missouri Association of Meat Processors says deer season is critical to meat processors statewide. "All of our members consider the deer processing season very important to their business," said Alewel, "and they work hard to accommodate hunters."

The meat processing industry is only one of many economic sectors that benefit from deer hunting. Spending by the state's 486,794 deer hunters supports hunting equipment manufacturers and retailers, convenience stores, motels, restaurants, service stations and other service providers.

A 2000 study by the Missouri Department of Conservation showed that deer hunters spent more than $413 million on equipment, trip-related goods and services and permits during deer season. An economic model developed at the University of Missouri indicates that this spending generated $394 million in added business activity in other economic sectors for a total benefit of $800 million to the state's economy. Sales of both resident and nonresident deer hunting permits have increased since then.

Nonresident deer hunters' spending is particularly beneficial to Missouri's economy. The average nonresident deer hunter makes 6.7 trips here each year and spends approximately $30 per trip. With more than 13,000 such hunters visiting Missouri each year, their contribution to the state's economy tops $2.6 million.