Part 8 of 9: A Detailed Look at Deer Processing Trends Across the Country
Deer processing. It’s a tradition and heritage unlike any other. But is it in jeopardy? Is it threatened by the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)? It’s quite possible that’s true. The Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) shed light on this in its 2019 Whitetail Report.
“Considering that around 6 million whitetails are killed annually by deer hunters in the United States, it stands to reason that volume equates to a lot of healthy meals made with wild venison in kitchens from Savannah to Seattle,” QDMA said. “However, an increasing occurrence of chronic wasting disease (CWD) across the landscape has created a significant complication for hunters traveling with a whole deer after the harvest, both within and between states and provinces. Namely, in many cases they can’t, and in some cases where they can the deer must be completely boned out. Hunters should always be aware of and abide by any carcass-transport restriction policies where they live and/or hunt. One way to easily do that is to use a commercial processor. So, in this year’s survey we asked the estimated number of deer processors in each state and province to create a baseline of what was available to hunters.”
The QDMA quickly realized many states weren’t willing (or couldn’t) share data for this request.
“One reason for the lack of data may be that most wild game is not subject to mandatory United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspection under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and, therefore, products made entirely from wild game are not "meat" under those laws,” QDMA said. “USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) actually has the authority to provide voluntary inspection under the Agricultural Marketing Act, but inspected processors are required to provide assurance that all ingredients, including non-amenable animal tissues, are clean, sound, healthful, wholesome, and properly identified. Such assurance is generally not possible with an animal killed by a hunter and then transported to the establishment by the hunter; there isn’t sufficient knowledge about the animal to conclude that the meat from it is not contaminated.”
Of the 17 states that reported, results ranged greatly in terms of prevalence of processors within each given state. According to the QDMA, the Southeast has .03 processors per 100 square miles, while the Northeast has .05 and the Midwest reports .02.
Top States with Deer Processors per 100 Square Miles
Rhode Island: 0.96
Based on this information, it’s clear the processor heritage is the strongest in the northeastern states. The southeastern corner of the country is a hotbed for them, too.
In the Southeast, Georgia has the most with 406. South Carolina has 180, Tennessee reported 138 and North Carolina declared 75 for a region total of 200. In the Northeast, Pennsylvania expectedly leads the region with 400. New York falls in line with 231, Maryland has 100, Massachusetts lists 30, Delaware harbors 15 and Rhode Island boasts 10 for a region total of 124. Finally, in the Midwest, the numbers were as follows: Michigan (324), Missouri (256), Iowa (148), Indiana (137), North Dakota (100) and Nebraska (30). These totaled up to 166 processors for the region. Obviously, there are processors within the states that chose not to report data. That’s important to remember.
The QDMA encourages states to keep better record of processors within their jurisdictions, though.
“Although some agencies closely track the number of deer processors for the purposes of bio-checking (see 2012 Whitetail Report), CWD testing (See 2018 Whitetail Report) or other reasons, QDMA would like to see more states and provinces develop a better system to catalog operators within their boundaries,” QDMA said. “Most game processors are as interested in protecting the resource as hunters and/or wildlife managers are and can be used to further the agencies’ management decisions and mission. More importantly, a better system to catalog processors would provide a helpful resource for hunters, especially in light of increasing travel restrictions on harvested deer.”
All important. All things to consider moving forward.
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.