Local deer processor aids food pantries

O ver the last 15 years, John Rozell has processed thousands of deer in the small facility in his garage, and in the last seven years, more than a ton of the meat has gone to the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.

“That does sound like a lot, but it accumulates over the years,” said Rozell, one of only two deer processors in Washington County who take part in the statewide Venison Donation Coalition, which allows hunters and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to donate deer to help food banks feed the hungry.

“We actually lose money when you look at it,” said Rozell, who normally charges $60 and the deer’s hide to process the roughly 35 pounds of meat that comes off the average deer. “But that’s OK, because it’s important to help out, too. We do that out of the goodness of our hearts.”

Rozell’s partner in the business, stepdaughter Tammy Eagan, summed it up this way: “I tell him it’s our end-of-the-year good deed.”
Rozell and Eagan aare aided by Warren Gordon, who handles the skinning of the deer.

The donated meat is made into hamburger and the food bank comes to Whitehall to pick it up. The deer is processed at no cost to the donating hunter or the state.

Rozell and Eagan have also been honored by the state for participating in a program that is researching chronic wasting disease. They donate deer heads to the state for that program.

Ever since he started hunting, Rozell has been butchering his own deer, and through word of mouth, hunters from all over, mostly northern New York and Vermont, have been bringing him deer for the better part of two decades.

“It’s all word of mouth,” he said. “We don’t advertise. We don’t have to,” said Rozell, who regularly has to turn business away toward the end of deer season. “I can do six or seven deer at a time in here, and once we get up to 70 hung outside, we start turning them away. The word gets out when we are full up.”

He started butchering, because he knew what how he wanted the meat cut.
“I just started cutting deer the way I like them,” said Rozell, who uses high-quality butcher’s paper and boxes the meat neatly for his clients.
Rozell is at it from Oct. 15 through Dec. 20, though he and Eagan, along with her 15-year-old son, Tyler, get out into the woods as well.

“I got two this year, one with the muzzleloader, and he got two the same way,” Eagan said, pointing to Rozell. “And my son got his first on his own this season.” Pictures of the family’s deer hang on the bulletin board in the front room of the garage, where the packaging is done. The back room, where the cutting is done, is fitted with sets of block and tackle and has a door that opens to allow the hanging deer to be brought inside. The room, stacked with deer hides to the ceiling during the season, also has a regular freezer and a walk-in.

“It all runs together. If you keep people happy, you’ll be busy,” Rozell said, adding that he keeps his price as low as possible, because he understands the hunter’s point of
view. “I’m a hunter, too, and if your family gets three or four deer, and you’re paying $70 or more for each, that’s a lot of money.”

This year, Rozell processed 287 pounds for the Venison Coalition, mostly deer that had been confiscated by the DEC. That was down substantially from 2009, when he did a record 624 pounds. In 2007 he did 500. Rozell said the amount varies based on the timing of the hunting season, whether people take more deer than they expect and how much the DEC confiscates.

Eagan said one of the best things that happened with the program, was a call from a family in Whitehall. “They got the venison from all the way down in Latham; they saw our stamp on it, and they called us to say thanks,” she said.
Rozell processed 310 deer this year, and his busiest year was 2007 when he did 347. That year, the Vermont and New York Southern Zone seasons started on the same day, and he had 60 deer dropped off in a single day.

This year, New York did not issue doe permits. He has also done three moose, three bears and a caribou that came from Newfoundland.

This year, Rozell said he processed nearly 12 tons of deboned meat.

The larger deer he does come from Vermont, because it allows hunters to kill deer with a minimum of a three-point rack. “The Vermont deer are heavier, because they are older.”

John Hohlman & Sons of Fort Ann, the only other Washington County processor, did between 50 and 75 pounds of donated meat this year.

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