Deer processors prepare for shotgun season

By Jordan Duncan

The smell of blood accompanies a knife opening flesh in a deer-processing warehouse as the owners prepare for shotgun season.

Whitetails Deer Processing, a business in Carbondale, will have an increase in business this shotgun season—which starts Nov. 21—according to co-owner Mike Greer.

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Greer said the company, located on New Hope Lane, will bring in approximately 200 more deer this shotgun season than in other seasons. He said Illinois hunting attracts people from around the country, and this keeps them busy.

“Shotgun season gets here and we could have another five to eight people for a minute,” Greer said before cutting meat for a client Friday night.  “We could have deer stacked up pretty high in there. Kind of like a farmer. All depends on the weather, seems like.”

Zach Hill, co-owner of the processing plant, said a snowy season might affect business.

“Last year was a bad year,” Hill said. “The first season was so hot and the second was a blizzard. We only had half a dozen during bow season.”

Hill said he processes an average of 300 deer for the whole year, with nearly 200 from shotgun seasons.

“It keeps us working pretty much around the clock,” he said. “With bow season, me and Mike, we usually do it ourselves.”

Hill said he usually only takes 50 to 90 deer during bow season.

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“A lot of bow hunters cut them up themselves,” Hill said. “There’s just so many shotgun hunters.”

He said shotgun seasons being shorter brings a higher concentration of hunters.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources website lists shotgun season in two waves, the first starting Nov. 21 through Nov. 23, and again Dec. 4 through Dec. 7.

Hill also said hunting is more cost-effective than buying meat from a grocery store. A resident hunting permit costs $26 for archery and $42.50 for shotgun season. He said he can get 60 pounds of meat from a deer.

Wal-Mart lists its price for 73 percent lean ground beef at $3.98 per pound in Carbondale. At that rate, buying 60 pounds of meat would cost nearly $240.

Whitetail Deer Processing charges $90 to cut and process a deer. It charges other fees for extra cuts and an additional $20 to field-dress them.

Wade Smith, a bow hunter from Gainesville, Fla., said he took his deer to be processed without field dressing.

“You can do it yourself but it’s easier to just take it over there,” said Smith. “The guy will have it froze and put it in the cooler and haul it home and you’re done. Two weeks of hunting you get home and you’re ready to take a break; you want to go to sleep.”

Smith, 42, said for the past five years, he has driven with a large group 14 hours to hunt in Illinois because the deer are larger than elsewhere.

“We like to hunt big deer and this is where they’re at is up North,” Smith said. “Florida don’t got big antlers and big deer. We got a lot of deer, just not the big ones like you got.”

Greer said the deer in Illinois are larger than other regions because they eat from farms.

“Illinois’ deer eat very well,” Greer said. “We have good crops. All of our farmers are growing alfalfa grasses and the deer love that so they’re right out there harvesting before the farmers can.”

Patrick Upchurch, a hunter from Carrollton, Ga., said he has seen hunting groups from Alabama and Texas. He also said southern Illinois is a major attraction for hunters.

“Local guys don’t think it is,” Upchurch said. “I got maybe 150,000 acres of public land within an hour’s drive. Y’all have 2 million acres of public land in an hour and a half drive from this spot. So it’s just amazing. And it’s all farm. Georgia doesn’t farm. We just grow pine trees.”

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