For hunters fortunate enough to harvest a deer Monday, the fun ends when the deer is down.
Whether they do it themselves or let a professional package the meat, it’s advisable to get it processed as soon as possible.
Ed Pudliner, owner of the deer-processing department at Pudliner Packing, 147 Norton Road, Johnstown, is a little disappointed in the number of deer he has received on the opening day.
“We have had about 15 deer brought in,” he said during an early afternoon telephone interview. “We usually have between 30 or 40 deer by lunchtime.”
He pointed to the unusually warm weather on opening day as one of the factors for fewer deer.
Along with the numbers, Pudliner expressed concern about the size of the deer he is processing.
A hunter brought in a 10-point buck with an 18-inch spread. Most hunters with a trophy like that would expect a hefty animal.
”It only weighed 125 pounds,” Pudliner said. “I suspect that he was down in weight because of the stress of the rutting season when deer mate.”
Each deer is weighed to ensure the customer knows how much meat to expect.
“I would say a 140-pound buck would give the customer at least 80 pounds of meat.”
Pudliner will be staying open until about 9 p.m. during the first few days of antlered deer season.
With a family of history of processing deer for nearly 60 years, Pudliner says he expects to be putting in a lot of extra hours to ensure each deer is skinned and cleaned before it is placed in a cooler to keep fresh.
If lucky hunters don’t have a chance to get their trophy to a processor quickly, Pudliner offered a few easy steps to keep the meat from spoiling.
“If they’re holding it at home, keep the deer on its back and spread the legs to allow air in the cavity,” he said.
“It’s also a good idea to throw a few bags of ice in the cavity to keep the meat cool.”
The basic processing costs $50.
“Most customers want hamburger, steaks, butterfly chops (tenderloins) and roasts,” Pudliner said. “We can get two nice roasts from the rump.”
Other specialty meats include kielbasa, bologna and pepper sticks.
“To spice things up, I like to add pepperjack cheese and jalapeno peppers to give the kielbasa and bologna a little more kick,” he said.
After a most successful archery season whev Thomas Smoked Meats processed a respectable 535 deer, owner Adam Thomas is optimistic about the remainder of deer season.
“Our first buck came in at 8:30 this morning (Monday) and things have been fairly steady all day,” he said. “We expect to get up to 1,500 deer this year.”
Hunters have been forming a steady stream to Thomas’ market at 305 Fernwood Drive in Benscreek.
He said many successful hunters were saying visibility was good in the morning as remnants of snow remained on the ground.
Thomas also charges $50 for a basic processing, but he finds many hunters wanting a little extra in using the meat.
He customizes cuts to whart the customer wants.
“If a person wants only jerky and peppersticks, it could cost as much as $300,” Thomas said. “I would say for most hunters spend an average of $120 for specialty items.”
Thomas also offers some unusual things such as deer hot dogs and deer bacon.
“Everything we do is vacuum packed to ensure the meat stays good for up to a year,” Thomas said. ”To the best of my knowledge, I believe we are the only ones in the Johnstown area offering vacuum packing.”
While a sharp knife and sturdy grinders are essential, Thomas said it is imperative that processors have a keen eye.
“It’s important to make sure all the meat is inspected and clean,” he said. “We have been fortunate that of the more than 600 deer we have seen this year, every one has been healthy.”
Thomas said that while the weather forecast calls for chilly night time temperatures, he too recommends icing down the cavity and hind legs.
“It is critical that air can circulate in the cavity,” Thomas said, ”But to accommodate hunters, we stay open until 11 p.m. to midnight throughout deer season.”
Tom Lavis covers Features for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter.com/Tom LavisTD.