For 30 years Loren and Robin Skluzacek have been running their deer processing business out of their Pine City home during hunting season.
Loren would be the one hoisting the deer in their garage, skinning them 12 at a time, cutting the venison, then moving on to the next 12. Meanwhile, Robin would wrap the venison and deal with customers.
“It makes a long day,” Loren said. “It’s quick money, but it’s not easy money. Never had to use credit cards for Christmas. But there comes a time in every person’s life where you just gotta close the chapter.”
The Skluzaceks said that new state regulations made their decision easy. Small scale venison processors have had minimal regulations in the past, mostly involving making sure that only tagged deer are processed.
“It’s a game animal,” Loren said. “You didn’t need all those regulations because you can’t sell the product. You’re doing a service for that hunter. End of story. If somebody didn’t want their deer and wanted to donate it to the food shelf, I couldn’t do that. But I could cut it for that guy and he could donate it to the food shelf himself.”
However, those regulations have changed, applying more rules for custom exempt processors like the Skluzaceks.
“There have been some new laws that went into effect this year that garage cutters now need to apply for a license,” Loren said. “The license is no big deal – $100, $200 whatever it is every year. But when you submit your license, then the application goes to the Department of Agriculture. Then they’ll come up here and inspect your facility. What they want are the washable walls, they want a food grade floor...”
He said that the improvements to his operation could require a significant expense – one they’re not willing to make. Skluzacek said he has heard of six or seven other garage cutters who have decided to give up the business as well.
“We’ve been contemplating the last five years about hanging it up,” he said. “This has kind of made our decision easier.”
In the Skluzaceks’ garage now the floors are bare, the layers of cardboard and rubber matting they set up for deer season gone. The chains hanging from the roof are empty. But there are plenty of mementos, including their sign reading, “We’ll cut your Buck, save you some Doe” and remnants of the float they ran in Pine City parades. Loren and Robin said there have been a lot of great memories made over the past three decades.
“The best is the young hunters with their first deer,” Loren said. “On the flip side, the 80, 90 year old hunters. That’s just awesome to see.”
One 12-year-old hunter brought her first deer to the Skluzaceks.
“I brought in the deer, and she already had the front hoof polished in pink,” Loren said. “Of course, we saved that hoof for her.”
They might miss the people and the hunting stories, but they won’t miss the cold garage and dealing with deer ticks.
“I’m looking forward to next deer season, where I can really enjoy,” Loren said. “I’ve had a lot of success hunting. But now I can focus. When the weekend comes, I’m there.”
Robin cheerfully reported that she doesn’t hunt, and said she has been ready to give up the business for a while now.
“Every year we would say, we’re going to quit, we’re going to quit,” Robin said. “But then the state came along and ... that’s our way out.”
“I know Robin is going to love it next year when her Hallmark Christmas movies are on she can watch them uninterrupted...” Loren said.
“...in the warm house,” Robin added, smiling.
They are both grateful for all of their customers who have come back to them deer season after deer season.
“We’ve had some loyal clients over the years, and we did make some good friends with these people we saw every year,” Robin said.
“We just want to let our customers know we appreciate them,” Loren said. “It has been a great run for us.”