Becoming venison: After the hunt, many successful Wisconsin hunters head for Hursh Meat Processing
POPLAR -- Against a crimson November sunset, the linear forms rose like some haphazard assemblage of ax handles.Nightfall. The first Sunday of Wisconsin's gun deer season. Hursh Meat Processing outside of Poplar.Those random linear shapes against...
POPLAR - Against a crimson November sunset, the linear forms rose like some haphazard assemblage of ax handles.
Nightfall. The first Sunday of Wisconsin’s gun deer season. Hursh Meat Processing outside of Poplar.
Those random linear shapes against the gathering dusk were the stiffened legs of white-tailed deer. More than 300 legs, connected to an estimated 80 deer that lay upside down in the cool evening air, said Rob Hursh, owner of the processing business. The deer were stacked on three hay racks and two other trailers, waiting to be moved inside the shop and converted into vacuum-sealed steaks, chops, roasts and burger.
“Hi, there,” chirped a cheery Brittany Falter, behind the counter at Hursh’s. “Droppin’ off?”
Yes, said Jeff Skille of Lake Nebagamon. He was droppin’ off.
“What’d you get, Jeff?” hollered Rob’s older brother, Clyde, approaching the counter.
“Buck - just a spike,” Skille replied.
But like everyone else droppin’ off at Hursh’s, Skille was happy. He had shot his deer, and soon he would have venison. He had planned to haul the buck into his kitchen and butcher it himself, but - well, his wife is pregnant, and she wasn’t keen on that, so here he was at Hursh’s.
“I did that once in college, at my apartment,” Skille said. “Hung it from a chin-up bar and let it thaw out there.”
And there was no blood?
“Oh, there was blood,” Skille said.
But in this case, spending $85 for neatly wrapped packages of venison and a happy spouse seemed reasonable to Skille.
Hursh’s has a faithful following among deer hunters in Northwestern Wisconsin. Rob, 45, figures the shop will process at least 400 deer this fall.
“We’re at about 110 so far,” he said last Sunday evening, standing along a trailer full of hooves pointing at the sky.
Wednesday night - before Thanksgiving - and Saturday would be the biggest days for drop-offs, he said. Wisconsin’s gun deer season ends today. Hunters didn’t need to rush to drop off deer this year, with the cool weather. They could leave their deer hanging in camps and back yards for several days if they wanted to.
Processing is a family affair at Hursh’s. Rob and Clyde and Rob’s son, Billy, 22, do a lot of the trimming and cutting. Rob’s wife, Laura, would be arriving home from vacation soon and step into the action. Hursh nieces and nephews and friends all pitch in.
The biggest year for the shop was 2007, Rob said, when they cut up 1,400 deer. That was when the deer population was high, and the Department of Natural Resources issued lots of doe tags.
Clyde got Skille’s buck unloaded and tagged, then went back to trimming fat from a buck that hung by its legs. He used a knife that resembled a fillet knife. Long strips of fat curled away and fell into a pail below.
A television hung from the ceiling. Soon, the Packers game would come on, and the crew could catch snippets of action as they worked. Does the Packers game affect productivity in the shop?
“Oh, no,” Clyde replied. “We can cut ourselves just as easy not watching the game.”
The doorbell rang every couple of minutes as hunters dropped off and picked up. The phone rang almost as often. When a call came in, Clyde would stop cutting, grab the receiver with a blood-stained glove, tuck the phone between his ear and shoulder and keep cutting as he talked.
At the front counter, taking orders from incoming hunters, Falter wore a perpetual smile.
“It’s so much fun,” she said. “Everyone coming in, sharing their stories. I like the energy.”
Rob Schierman of Herbster dropped off a doe that his son, Hunter, had shot.
Schierman brings his deer to Hursh for a reason.
“They got a reputation,” he said. “Good food.”
The doorbell went be-bong again. Ethan Cole of Duluth was droppin’ off - and pickin’ up.
“It’s been quite a year,” said Cole, who hunts near Herbster.
He shot a big eight-point buck with his bow earlier this fall. In Wisconsin, hunters can shoot a buck with both bow and rifle. He was at Hursh’s to pick up the venison from his bow-killed buck.
Hunting near Herbster on the first Saturday of gun season, Cole shot a big nine-point buck just 10 minutes before dark, he said. It field-dressed at 226 pounds and had a 20½-inch antler spread. That’s the one he was dropping off.
“Some kind of season, huh?” said Cole, 36. “If you have a choice between being good and lucky, go with lucky. ... Hey, the Cubs won the World Series, so why couldn’t this happen to me?”
Night had fallen now, but still the deer kept coming. Bucks in pickup beds. Bucks on trailers. A tarp-wrapped buck inside a Subaru Forester.
Happy hunters, droppin’ off at Hursh’s.