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Mast Meats: Venison Without the Mess

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“A lot of guys don’t want to do this in their garage,” says Mast, taking a break from the stainless steel table where he works with family, carving and grinding meat from more than 50 deer a day. Mast is stout and has a great sense of humor, and there’s nothing about the skinning and butchering biz that seems to bother him. “People love meat,” he says, “but they don’t want the mess.”

Mast and company work in a warehouse seemingly in the middle of nowhere, down a gravel path off Route 609. Inside, the floor plan is sectioned into thirds, with the skinning and cutting rooms divided by three massive walk-in coolers that hold gutted deer ready for processing. Despite what takes place here, the spread is very clean and well-kept, and for that matter, full to capacity. In fact, Mast was wary of having this article written, if only because he can’t handle even one more customer.

It’s evident here that Mast has tapped a gushing niche. Here’s how it works: Hunters must first “field dress” their kills, gutting and cleaning them before stopping at Mast’s “deer drop,” where the state game tags are recorded with customer info. A few days later, customers return for their custom cuts: tenderloin, steaks, hamburger and bologna — a fantastic sweet and spicy summer-sausagelike roll, more Hickory Farms than Oscar Meyer.

The business is attentive to every part of the deer — there’s barely any waste. Antlers and hooves are sold off, while other waste eventually winds up in lipstick and dog-food factories. Deer hides are also a commodity, which are removed by Mast’s youngest sons, who first make select slits in the animal’s underskin, then hang the deer by the neck on an electric chain hoist. The nape is fixed via vice grip to the floor. One flick of the switch and the carcass rises to the ceiling. Moments later the hide hits the floor like a wet rug.

This is nothing more than a day at work for the kids, even 4-year-old Valerie Rose, who zooms beneath the severed heads on her oversized tricycle and pokes at grubs with sawed-off deer hooves. The whole family works more than 12 hours a day at the processing table, with implements from boning knives to band saws. For the service, Mast’s customers pay between $45 and $100 per deer, depending on the cuts and size of their kill.

Mast is especially taken with his most recent customer drop: a fresh 14-point buck left for dead after being whomped by a car. “Road kill,” said Mast, looking at the dead animal. “You don’t see that very often.” Someone guessed it would yield 75 pounds of meat. And it also seemed to confirm that there’s more than one way to come into a bunch of hamburger. S

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