Dave Finocchietti runs a deer-cutting shop from his home in Gray. He didn’t turn away hunters last fall, but many other deer cutters in southern and central Maine could not keep up with the demand created by a spike in any-deer permits. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

With a record number of any-deer permits given out in Maine last year, Dave Finocchietti struggled to keep up with hunters bringing their deer kill to the butcher shop he runs out of his home in Gray.

“Before I knew it, I was full here. We worked from 3 a.m. until 6 p.m.,” said Finocchietti, owner of Dave’s Deer Cutting. “I needed my grandson to help. He’s 6 feet tall and 200 pounds. He skinned and quartered the deer for me. His wife was the wrapper. I was out straight right through black powder season in December.”

Deer cutters, also known as wild game processors, are used by most hunters to butcher deer. And as the annual firearm season gets into full swing this week in Maine, cutters like Finocchietti will be under more pressure than ever.

This year marks a new all-time high for any-deer permits in Maine – 153,910 – a 40 percent hike from the previous record in 2020 and a 125 percent increase from just two years ago.

Many deer cutters in southern and central Maine, where the vast majority of permits are allotted, were slammed last fall. Finocchietti didn’t turn away any hunters last fall, but some cutters did. The state lists 51 wild game processors across Maine, with 26 of them in Maine’s eight southernmost counties. Most are run out of home facilities, such as garages converted with walk-in freezers.

Allen Cox turned away 75 deer last fall from his home deer-cutting shop, Allen Cox Custom Cutting in West Buxton. He and his family saw their business nearly double.


“I’ve been doing it 20 years,” said Cox, who previously worked as a butcher at Hannaford. “I had never turned a deer away before. I ended up getting an extra trailer. … Once the rifle season starts, that’s when it will really get clogged up.”

Even larger operations were swamped.

“We were just so backlogged. We did more than 850 (deer) and turned away about 125. We were 200 deep the whole time,” said Bobby Laflamme at Laflamme’s Meat Cutters in Arundel, one of the state’s largest deer processors with a crew of six full-time and 10 part-time employees.

State biologists recommended the sharp increases in any-deer permits in an effort to cull the white-tailed deer population, especially in southern and central Maine, the “breadbasket for deer in Maine,” according to state Deer Biologist Nathan Bieber. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has been directed by the public to cull the deer herd in these regions because of the rise in Lyme disease spread by deer ticks. Maine has the highest incidence of Lyme disease in the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Two years ago, state biologists estimated the Maine deer population at 230,000 to 250,000. Today, the herd is estimated at 290,000, according to Bieber. 

Last year’s deer harvest – 33,159 – increased 17 percent from 2019, and biologists are counting on a larger harvest this fall. Any-deer permits given out in the state’s annual lottery let a hunter take a deer of either sex rather than just a buck.


The number of hunting licenses issued in Maine has increased by 11 percent since 2019, said Mark Latti, communications director for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Last year the total number of hunting licenses sold – 226,328 – was the highest since 1982. Latti said the total deer harvest in Maine is similar to the late 1990s “when it was around 30,000, but then it started to go down around 1998 through about 2006. So we started to see fewer deer cutters.”

This year’s firearm season started Oct. 23 with Youth Deer Day, followed by Maine Residents Day on Saturday. The firearm hunt continues Monday with out-of-state hunters and runs through Nov. 27.

Last year, 35 percent of the deer harvested in Maine were killed by hunters on Opening Day and during the first week of November. Opening Day alone accounted for 16 percent of the total harvest.

“On Opening Day I had 80 deer by 1 p.m. We can only hold so many deer. Last year, I was turning away deer every day,” said James Small, owner of Butcher Boys Deer Cutting in Bowdoin, one of the state’s largest deer processing facilities.

Small, with assistance from family and friends, butchered 1,100 deer last year from hunters traveling to his shop from Scarborough, Rockland and everywhere in between.

Even during the week, when the harvest always drops off, Small was turning away deer by 9 a.m.


“I’m sure some of those deer went bad,” Small said. “I see deer come in that are already rotten. Hunters hang them out in the warm weather.”

In southern Maine, where temperatures soared into the 70s at the start of firearm season last year, finding a deer cutter was a concern.

The “danger zone” for any meat is being in temperatures over 40 degrees for more than four hours, said Cox, the West Buxton butcher.

“Above 40 degrees, bacteria start to grow. That’s why I typically recommend when you harvest one, stuff the cavity full of ice to help,” he said.

Deer cutters typically charge $125 to $270 to process a deer, depending on the size of the animal. Generally, a hunter will get half the weight of the deer in various cuts. So a 150-pound deer should yield about 75 pounds of meat.

Venison steaks go for $30 to $50 per pound, but many hunters simply want to shoot a deer to “fill the freezer” and avoid having to buy beef in the grocery store.


While some Maine hunters butcher their own deer, most do not.

“For most of the hunters these days, having someone else do their cutting is the norm,” said Jordan Wessels, president of the York County Fish and Game Association and an avid hunter. “It seems to make the non-hunters in the family more comfortable about eating the final product. It really is becoming a lost art.”

 Wessels surmised most people no longer butcher their own deer because it’s hard work.

“Most young hunters haven’t even seen one butchered. It’s not being passed down. I actually have a couple of gents I hunt with ask me to do theirs so they could help and learn what to do,” Wessels said.

Deer hunter Michael Maines in New Gloucester butchers his own game with one of his sons. Last year he recognized the need for others to learn the skill, so he’s working on setting up a workshop for members at the Royal River Rod and Gun Club, of which he is former president.

He quarters his deer, and then as he goes along vacuum-seals the different cuts: the steak, the hamburger, he even makes sausage out of the lower-grade cuts, sometimes mixing in a little pork fat. It takes him and his sons about three hours to complete the work.


“It’s really not that hard. Every time, you get a little better at it, and a little faster,” Maines said. “Certainly it’s been an issue. Given our record number of doe permits, I think it’s probably going to get worse. There could be hundreds of deer carcasses that are not utilized. It seems it could be a massive problem.”

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said the responsibility of having a deer processed lies squarely with the hunter.

In more than 40 years as a hunter, Trahan has mentored dozens of new hunters on how to butcher deer. His in-laws make a family gathering of processing a deer. But that family effort, he said, has become a lost tradition in Maine.

DIF&W has held a few deer-cutting seminars in recent years. And the Maine Sportsman’s Show likely will have a seminar next March, Trahan said.

“When you start hunting and you have no idea what to do after you’ve killed an animal, that’s unacceptable. You can’t waste that natural resource,” he said.

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