Published in January 2005

Few people would question that venison is among the best of wild meats.  It’s low fat, and therefore healthy, has no hormones of antibiotics, and tastes as good as beef, according to many, with its own pleasing “wild’ flavor.  Best of all, for many charities, the meat is free and very useful when organizations like Hunters For the Hungry make it available for low cost meals.  It’s not free to hunters, who must pay for processing before turning it over to HFH, which is why Bill Kucik, who teaches meat processing at Pioneer Joint Vocational School in Shelby, decided to go the organization one better.

Bill has taught for seven years at Pioneer, starting with just 7 students and building to the current 22 (all FFA members), and many of them like to deer hunt.  “I thought I’d teach the students to process deer as well as more ordinary cattle and hogs.” he said.  “They’d do it at no cost and even if they never used the knowledge in a future job, they’d know how to process the animals for their own use.”

The idea caught on quickly, and the kids proved just as enthusiastic as he’d hoped.  The first year they processed seven whitetails, skinning each animal, cutting up the meat and converting most of it into deerburger.  This past year they did 25 and that’s about as high as Kucik plans to go.  “We want this kind of processing to be a learning experience, not hard work.” he said.  “Just enough animals to gain practice, but not enough to tire anybody and make them less cautious and safety minded.”

Who gets the meat?  This year most of it went to the Richland County Home (Dayspring) who were overjoyed to get the free bounty.  It was used in everything from chili to spaghetti and other hamburger-type dishes.  Some years portions of it have gone to a grateful Salvation Army and various Christian charities.  And a little is always kept to make deer jerky using a standard pre-mix seasoning, letting it stand overnight, then smoking the lot in their large walk-in smoker using hickory sawdust.  It’s tasty stuff.

Some is also held out to make baloney, also using a pre-mix along with 40 pounds of pork and 60 pounds of ground venison.  The combination is mixed together, ground, put into casings, and smoked for a pungent and flavorsome treat.  Bill Kucik made it very clear that Pioneer does NOT do ordinary deer processing, so those who take an animal during the various seasons should not bring it to the meat processing plant. “It’s strictly for charity and to teach our FFA students,” he said.

It’s worth pointing out that the meat processing plant at Pioneer is truly unusual.  Every vocational school has classes in hair dressing, welding, etc., but only two in the country have meat processing, the second being in Cincinnati.  So, graduating students are almost assured of a good job.  And the Pioneer facility has everything a real meat packing company would have, from huge coolers to full facilities for turning a steer into steaks and roasts.

Bill charges $110 to custom process beef animals to an owners specifications and $60 for hogs if the owner wants hams and bacon smoked, something that’s done only in January.  He also has a small shop on-site to sell frozen beef.  All profits, of course, are re-invested to pay for supplies and equipment. 

Readers might wonder if high school students can do a first class job of processing their beef animals and hogs, and the answer is a resounding “Yes.” Last year they went to the state meat judging and took third place.  Otherwise, the classes have taken so many trophies for their work that Bill allowed one shelf in the classroom to be lined with them and students took the remainder home.  “We just didn’t have room for all of them.” he said.

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