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Meet The Men Behind the Kill

December 5, 1992

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Deer hunters need people like Floyd Sorrells and Frank Lett as much as they need guns, bullets and the wild outdoors. For who else would skin, butcher and wrap their prizes?

″It’s pretty much of a hassle for most hunters,″ Lett said. ″They don’t have the tools and they don’t have the facilities to cut it.

″I cut up a deer for a friend one time in his garage and we didn’t have the right kind of tools. ... I did it that way and it took me about a half a day that way to cut up one deer. So I figure that’s the reason why they come to us.″

Lett, 59, of Poca, and Sorrells, 52, of Charleston, are in full swing for the two-week buck season. Sorrells, sons, Larry and Tim; daughter, April; wife, Carolyn; will work 12 hours a day.

Larry Sorrells said the work isn’t drudgery. For instance, the Sorrells and their assistants have competition each season. Larry Sorrells said he has the skinning record of three minutes, while his dad holds the mark of 25 minutes for cutting and wrapping a deer.

It’s been fun enough to rehire seven skinning assistants for 15 straight years, Larry Sorrells said. Some are from Florida and Texas, and plan their vacations around the annual rite, he said. A neighbor boy also helps out.

″We grew like a family and it’s not really work for us now,″ he said. ″It’s just a big get-together.″

Both families have the same kind of equipment found in a butcher shop: Grinders, freezers and oversize tables.

They drum up business mostly by word of mouth. Some customers are attracted by signs posted along the road or by newspaper advertisements.

Both families started much more modestly.

Floyd Sorrells, who works for a chemical company, began butchering deer about 20 years ago on a kitchen table at his home.

″There was a guy working for me when I was cutting meat who wanted me to co-sign a note for him, I told him I couldn’t do that,″ Sorrells said. ″But I had this idea for awhile.″

Lett, a meat cutter all his life who also is a pastor, started in 1980.

″It’s just something I got into on the side,″ Lett said.

Customers usually go away happy, the men say, although some lodge complaints.

″They’ll come in and say, ’Where’s all our meat?‴ Larry Sorrells said. ″They don’t realize a deer that weighs 100 pounds, when you fillet all the meat, take the bones out of it, you get about 45 pounds of meat.

″A lot of them will go out and buy freezers and everything else thinking they’re going to get all that meat,″ he said.

″When a hunter goes out and kills a 100-pound deer, it’ll run down in a hollow somewhere, he has to drag it a mile to his car,″ Floyd Sorrells said. ″If you drag around a 100-pound weight for an hour and a half or so, it feels like it weighs 200 pounds.″

One or two times a season hunters will complain about hair in their meat, Lett said.

″Deer have hair and some of the biggest complaints are if customers get a hair on their deer, they’re upset sometimes,″ Lett said. ″But there’s no way you can get all the hair off of it. We try to get all the hair off we possibly can.″

Hunters often damage the meat. Problems range from the bullet being fired into a choice portion to decomposition.

″When the hunter shoots a deer they need to get it somewhere, get it skinned, get it to a cooler,″ Lett said. ″They need to get it to me as soon as they can and not let it lay out.″

Lett said he will skin, butcher and wrap 500 deer in a good season. The cost is $35 unless customers want the meat tenderized, in which case Lett charges $40.

Floyd Sorrells declined to say how many deer his family handles.

″We charge $35 to dress a deer,″ he said. ″That’s during the gun week; the big week.″

At other times, ″it depends on the size of the deer,″ he said.

The Sorrells declined to say what kind of profit can be made. Lett said it is minimal.

″It seems like expenses any more keep going up and going up,″ Lett said. ″I mean you can’t charge people what you need to get your money. You make a little, but not really that much.″

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