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Local deer processors face incoming busy season

News Photo by Julie Riddle Alisha Manning, owner of Bucky’s Meats in Lachine, helps a customer load processed meat at her store on Friday.

ALPENA — The hundreds of hunters who bag a buck later this month may also have to hunt for help processing their prize, local meat processors say.

Closed doors at several local meat processing businesses will keep butchers busy as hunters head for the woods in just over a week for the start of regular firearm deer season.

“It’s getting to be slim pickings for Northeast Michigan on butcher shops,” said Alisha Manning, owner of Bucky’s Meats in Lachine.

Many local butcher shops picked up new customers when a Posen meat processor recently announced it had to stop processing meat, at least temporarily, Manning said.

Fires closed several northern Michigan butcher shops in recent years, and a Hillman butcher retired a few years ago, Manning reported.

An Atlanta butcher stopped taking deer until further notice as of Oct. 25, according to a Facebook post.

Last year, new hunters escaping from lockdowns into the outdoors made deer season extra busy at Bucky’s, and Manning had to put a cap on the number of deer that hunters could bring in.

During rifle season, she’d arrive at work at 8 a.m. to find a dozen pickup trucks lined up and waiting for her. She expects the same this year, Manning said.

After residents started turning to fresh meat when the coronavirus pandemic emptied store shelves last year, butcher business boomed across the region. Bucky’s is booked through 2022 and taking orders for beef processing in 2023.

With so much work, Manning this year for the first time had to say no to hunters wanting to process their early hunt season meat. Recently, she had to hang a sign on her door to turn away the droves of hunters who pull hopefully into her parking lot.

Especially with fewer butchers open this year, she’s grateful for smaller, deer-only processors who take some of the strain off of bigger butchers trying to keep up with hunters’ demands.

“It’s a good time to get into the business, for sure,” Manning said. “If you know what you’re doing, get some coolers and I’ll send you some business.”

At Dave’s Deer Shack, on the west end of Long Lake, Dave Radle processes deer and only deer.

He, too, has heard about other local processors leaving the business. A small-scale processor near Millersburg will take only half the deer as last year, and another processor in Rogers City closed not long ago, he said.

“That means I’m going to be busy,” Radle said.

Radle’s knives have been flying since the first youth hunt in mid-September, but he can handle the coming tide of deer come Nov. 15, he thinks.

“My wife’s nervous, but I don’t sweat it,” he said. “One at a time will do it.”

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