In every state, hunters who leave game animals in the field can be cited for wanton waste, but what about someone who abandons their wild game at a meat processor? Well, butchers in Montana say it’s a growing problem, and they’re calling for a law that will protect them from deer and elk hunters who collar their businesses with thousands of dollars in unpaid bills each year.
Mark Henckel, my longtime personal friend and the fine outdoors editor with the Billings Gazette, reported last week that more and more Montana game meat processors say when the hunting seasons are finished they are left holding the bag, so to speak. In this case, the bag contains summer sausage, ground elk and venison jerky.
Outside of filing suit in civil court, bilked Montana processors have no legal method of recouping their costs and forcing the deadbeats to honor their commitment.
Ed Michael, co-owner of Fourth Avenue Meats in Billings, told Henckel that while Montana’s hunting seasons have been over for more than three months, he still has 20 orders that have not been picked up.
“I know this is a problem for all processors,” Michael said. “For us, it runs into a couple of thousand dollars each year. And no matter what we do, we can’t seem to get some guys to come and pick up their meat.”
John Peterson of Missoula’s H and H Meats in Missoula told the Gazette that even requiring a deposit at the time of the order hasn’t solved his problem.
“We have over $3,000 in processing that people haven’t picked up,” Peterson said. “It’s a big problem and it’s something where we need a law to cover it.”
In neighboring Wyoming, it’s not as easy for hunters to renege on their processing orders.
In the Cowboy State, abandoning game at the processor is treated the same as abandoning it in the field. There, it is considered a low misdemeanor, subject to up to $1,000 in fines and six months in jail.
Craig Sax, a Wyoming Game Warden, explained how his state protects its deer and elk meat processors.
“Our law says that if a person fails to pick up the wildlife after the game processor has attempted to contact them, and if the processor will send a registered letter and then give them 45 days to comply, then the game warden could go to that individual to find out why and, if appropriate, they could be cited,” he said.
Sax noted that, by all accounts, Wyoming’s law appears to be successful, as “very rarely” are citations issued.
Back in Big Sky Country, the Montana Meat Processors Association is planning to lobby for a similar law in the next legislative session.
“It’s no different than that person going out and shooting deer in the field and letting it lay," said Billings processor Ed Michael. “They abandon it. And that’s wrong.”