Deer processing

Tom Liszka, Liszka Meats owner, puts wood into a smoker at Liszka Meats Wednesday.

DELAWARE TOWNSHIP – Tom Liszka is bucking for his deer processing business to be busier this year.

He credits that to the state extending its traditional deer season.

“It’s going to make it easier on me,’’ Liszka said. “A longer deer season spreads out my work more.’’

Pennsylvania made a major change this year in firearms deer season. Since 1963, the first day of traditional deer season began the Monday after Thanksgiving. This year, deer hunters with rifles can begin today.

The change expanded the firearms season to 13 days, including three Saturdays rather than two. The change was one of several approved in April by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Hunters have been dropping off deer at Liszka Meats in Delaware Township for years. Liszka created his business in 1983 when he was 23. Back then it was a very small butchering enterprise that didn’t include deer.

“One thing led to another that led to me processing deer,’’ he said.

He requires all hunters to field dress a deer before he butchers it. Field dressing is the removal of an animal’s internal organs, which helps cool the body and slows bacterial growth. 

“It can go bad in a day if it isn’t field dressed,’’ Liszka said.

Tthe various ways he can butcher and process venison include steaks, roasts, chops, ground meat, jerky and sausages.

Liszka added smokers to his business a couple years ago ,and it has been a smash hit with customers seeking that added flavor, he said.

“I can smoke a 1,000 pounds of meat a day,’’ Liszka said. 

The number of butchers willing to take on deer processing has faded over the years. Regulations covering the processing of wild game meat have become more strict, John Zrile, co-owner of Zrile Bros. Packing Co. in Shenango Township said.

“And there’s concern about the wasting (disease) and tics you can find in deer,” Zrile said.  

In the past, butchers could sell deer hides for a tidy profit. But plummeting hide prices have dealt another blow to processors like Zrile.

“I have 12,000 deer hides stored in Colorado with no buyers,’’ Zrile said. “Deer skins use to have value. Their value now is zero.’’

He added that the trade war with China has also hurt business.

“And a real big change is that man-made synthetics are now being used in shoes and jackets, so the value of all leathers has gone down in price,’’ Zrile said. “There’s a lot of hides going to landfills.’’

Consumers have been attracted these synthetic goods, which tout better performance, he added.

“And I’m a culprit, too,’’ Zrile said. “I have synthetic shoes.’’

But butchering traditional meats doesn’t interest Liszka.

“I don’t want anything to do with it,’’ he said. “There’s too much regulations.’’

Plus, since venison is seasonal, it allows Liszka to pursue other options during the off season.

He is a co-owner of U’ll Scream for Ice Cream in Reynolds. It opened in April, selling ice cream, gelato and sorbet.

“Once deer season is over in January, there’s nothing to do,’’ Liszka said. 

But he’s found something far more meaningful than work. His father, brother Richard and friend Joel have passed away within the past eight months.

“I want to dedicate this season to them,’’ he said.

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