Tribune-Phonograph
November 4, 2009

From Kill To Cutting Board

Fall hunting season means plenty of work for meat processors.
"Laws are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made."

While most of us would rather not peak inside a legislative chamber with a deadline approaching, there are plenty who end up grinding meat when there's fresh kill on the cutting board. So what goes on with those who will be processing the spoils of the fall hunt?

One local meat processor will be opening his doors just in time for the fall rush.

After a March 3 fire swept through Ray's Market in Unity, Al Gurtner and his family broke ground on a new building in early August. It's on Elderberry Road just east of the Sleep Inn by the border between Abbotsford and Colby.

Al is planning on opening his doors in mid-November but will be taking meat before then. His cooler is up and running so he has already been getting them filled Monday.

"At least I can take meat for the people," Al said.

There is plenty of space available, with 20x30 foot space that is triple what he had in the Unity store. He also has two 12x16 smokehouses waiting for venison and other meat.

The shop could also extend its reach beyond just smoking meat. Al is in discussions with the folks at Holland Family Farms to see if he could smoke their award winning gouda cheese.

His new shop also features a 38x50 foot space for the retail end of business. That will be packed with a variety of cheeses, wine and various Wisconsin items. But mostly it will be stocked with Gurtner's goods.

"I have to make what I put on my shelves," Al said.

With the store scheduled to open up just in time for the gun-deer season, it will be getting in front of a tidal wave of work.

"It's just crazy," Al said.

The opening weekend is always hectic and it is bustling even more if it is warm. The colder days mean a little less business. During the week things tend to calm down but the Monday after the season is perhaps the busiest.

Last year Al took in 3,300 pounds of boneless venison on that day. That dropped to about 2,00 pounds the following Tuesday. All told, the week following the hunt will bring between 10,000 and 12,000 pounds of meat to the shop.

Given the various hunting seasons, ranging from muzzle-loader to archery to the youth hunt and more, the work is fairly spread out in the year. There are also many hunters who will leave their meat in the freezer for awhile and then bring it in when it is convenient for them, giving places like Ray's Market a nearly continuous supply of meat.

"Just about every day of the year you will see venison come in," Gurtner said.