'A dying art': Pennsylvania deer processors face marathon days as hunting season heats up

Adam Smeltz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Outdoors

When Doug Peffer opened his big-game butcher shop, deer hunters around the intersection of Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties could pick from perhaps a dozen full-service processors to carve their harvest.

About 45 years later, Mr. Peffer’s outfit near Ellwood City stands among fewer than half that many across greater Pittsburgh, estimated his son, Johnathan Peffer, 39, taking a breather Sunday afternoon from a line of new deliveries stretching out the door.

Just beginning a weekslong processing marathon, southwestern Pennsylvania deer butchers cautioned they were nearing capacity after statewide firearms deer season started Saturday. Fewer butchers — and strong turnout for the commonwealth’s combined buck and doe hunting — mean long days for the relative handful still behind the knife, they said.

“It’s the ‘Deadliest Catch’ but with deer,” said the younger Mr. Peffer, a co-owner of Doug Peffer’s Deer Cutting, Smokehouse, & Big Game Processing, referring to the reality TV show about crab fishermen. Staff shirts at the family business in Franklin, Beaver County, reference “a dying art — a way of life,” he said.

Workers there clocked an 18-hour day Saturday, wrapping up around 2 a.m. Sunday before returning six hours later. A year ago this weekend, the business reached capacity for the first time after the state allowed hunters to pursue bucks and doe simultaneously at the start of the season.

Traditionally, Pennsylvania had reserved doe hunting for later. This year’s statewide firearms season runs through Dec. 10, with a one-day pause on Dec. 4. About 600,000 hunters are expected, according to the state Game Commission.


“You can shoot a lot of deer in one day. And if you can shoot everything, these guys are going to be working their butts off,” said Paul Anderson, 51, of Portersville, standing Sunday in the Peffer’s parking lot. He just dropped off a nine-point buck that he shot in Warren County.

Mr. Anderson once hesitated over the combined hunting of antlered and antlerless deer, he said, having found several hunted doe left to decay.

But that issue is “more hunter [behavior] than it is rules,” he said. He now sees the combined approach, which continues this year, as a way to attract more hunters to extra opportunity. The Game Commission has said that's the general idea, in addition to simplifying regulations.

A key is to think ahead when butcher availability may be limited, said Dominic Ciafre, 23, of Ciafre Deer Processing. A family business in Middlesex, Butler County, it expected to accept about 200 deer Saturday and Sunday for processing.


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