Popularity of deer hunting keeps meat processors busy
PEORIA — You wouldn’t know it was the start of the Illinois firearm deer hunting season by Allan Wetterauer’s relaxed manner on the loading dock of Raber Packing Co. on Friday afternoon.
The 40-year employee of the company started by his father and “Mr. Raber” stood, calmly smoking a cigarette, waiting for the post-dusk rush, when hunters are required to check in the day’s take, and when the pace at the 50-plus year old business picks up.
“There’s been some times where we’ve been here until 11 o’clock at night,” Wetterauer said. “We don’t turn anybody down.”
Wetterauer says that during the first three days of firearm season, employees will process between 80 and 125 deer each day. As of 4 p.m., Friday, that number hovered around 40.
“The thing is, it’s cool enough outside they don’t have to bring them in right away,” Wetterauer said. “Plus, we’ve got cooler trailers we can keep ‘em in overnight.”
Wetterauer said hunters often have “hanging stands,” where they can hang more than one field-dressed carcass and bring in a few days’ worth of kills in one trip, often filling up trailers and pickup truck beds.
Last year, Illinois hunters killed 98,944 deer during firearm season and 182,720 total, saving untold amounts of automobile front bumpers.
The record deer harvest, in 2005, was 201,209.
If Wetterauer’s estimations are correct, that number may increase this year, just as the popularity of the sport has been for the past two and a half decades.
“Twenty five years ago deer hunting got more popular, and I think it’s even more popular now,” Wetterauer said. “I see all kinds of new people all the time coming in here.”
According to Jubilee State Park Superintendent Tom Hintz, the nearly five square miles set aside for 50 hunters each day during firearm season are really the only place for hunters in the Peoria County and Tazewell County area to go if they don’t own land. As of 6 p.m. Friday, that group of 50 had netted about 15 deer, a solid number, according to Hintz.
“I think the harvest will be good this year,” Hintz said. “It got cold at just the right time. It’s just my theory that they start to mate when it gets cold.”
Hintz said that mating cycle makes hunting less of a hobby and more of a necessity.
“When you have a population that’s out of control it gets beyond the ecosystem’s carrying ability, you’ll have deer that will start to starve to death,” Hintz said. “Hunting is vital to the ecosystem.”
It’s also vital to Wetterauer and Raber Packing Co.
“It’s all done here,” Wetterauer said of the processing done at the business. “People come here because we’ll do anything you want done.”
Even pickled deer hearts?
“If they want it, we do it,” Wetterauer said with a smile.