Deer hunters may have hard time finding a butcher this fall

HAYS, Kan. (AP) – Deer hunters across Kansas may have trouble finding a local butcher to process their deer this fall because many of them are booked up for weeks or even months.

The situation is a byproduct of the coronavirus pandemic. More ranchers turned to small and medium-sized meat processors after the virus forced many major meatpacking plants to shut down temporarily or reduce production in the spring and backlogs developed in the system.

“It got busier because of COVID,” Ron Wheeler, co-owner of Burkhart Meats said to the Hays Daily News. “We used to have a two- to three-week wait – never months.”

So this fall, Burkhart Meats is unable to process deer at its shop in Kinsley for the first time in 50 years. Smoky River Meats in Salina is also turning away deer hunters. Those butchers say they are booked up through January 2022.

“Right now we’re just really busy,” said Lucas Bretz of Smoky River Meats in Salina.

The executive director of the American Association of Meat Processors, Chris Young, said the problem is widespread nationwide. He said part of the issue is that wild game carcasses must be stored separately from beef, hogs and lamb and many processors don’t have room to store them.