For most deer seasons, the biggest challenge is usually bagging the prize. This year, it could be finding a place to process the meat.
Locally, deer processing operators expect to be busy the next several weeks as the popular firearms deer season, which begins today, gets underway. But they believe there will be no unusual delays in processing the meat this year.
However, in some parts of Missouri, meat processors have been choosing to not accept deer for processing, Missouri Department of Conservation officials have reported.
Impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic have caused a backlog in the processing of hogs and cattle, said Jasmine Batten, MDC Wildlife health program supervisor. State agriculture officials said smaller facilities, which only process a few hundred animals per day, saw an increase in demand because of COVID-19 outbreaks at large processors.
"At the same time, we're getting indications that hunting could be up this year," Batten said. "It seems COVID-19 has driven more people outside."
MDC issues permits for meat processors that handle deer.
"While we maintain a list of permitted facilities on an annual basis, we do not have any way of knowing whether a permitted processor chooses to handle deer in a given year," Batten said.
The deer donation program, Share the Harvest, is also coordinated by MDC and the Conservation Federation of Missouri. MDC does maintain a list of processors who are enrolled in this program and can accept deer from hunters for donation to the needy.
To donate, a hunter takes his or her deer to an approved meat processor and lets the processor know how much venison they wish to donate.
Central Missouri Meat and Sausage on Pendergras Road in Fulton just joined the Share the Harvest Program. Managers there said they have hired some part-time help and have extra space set aside for deer processing. They expect a two-week turnaround to complete deer processing.
Also participating in Share the Harvest is Horn's Meat Processing on County Road 318 in Fulton. Managers there said they block off most of November and December to do deer processing and don't do livestock during that time.
To process a regular cut of deer meat, they said the turnaround could be as little as two or three days, but for those wanting summer sausage or sticks, they need to have enough to do a smoker load and that could be up to two weeks.
For more information on deer hunting and Share the Harvest, visit huntfish.mdc.mo.gov.