Winter definitely has tightened its grip this week on the Quad-City area, most noticeably north of Interstate 80 in rural Scott County.
On Wednesday afternoon, strong gusts of wind whipped snow across a stretch of New Liberty Road near Walcott, where the folks at Schnoor’s Smokehouse, a small meat processing plant, are embracing the cold.
“I love the snow,” said Craig Schnoor, an avid deer hunter who runs the business with his wife, Kelly. “When there’s a food source outside the timber, deer need to find it, and the colder it is, the earlier in the evening they’ll come out.”
But the Schnoors, who often hunt together, aren’t aiming to harvest a deer during Iowa’s second shotgun season, which ends on Sunday.
They simply don’t have time.
The couple took vacation this week from their full-time jobs in order to work longer, 15-hour days at their meat locker, where hunters continue to bring deer to be butchered, smoked and packaged.
Craig, a union iron worker out of Local 111 in Rock Island, also took the previous week off to work at his family’s plant, which they opened in 2011. He and his wife plan to return to their jobs next week, but they expect to stay busy through the holidays.
“You won’t see me at too many Christmas events,” Craig said, standing in his blood-stained slaughter room, following the day’s duties. “I guess it’s a good problem to have.”
In a nearby room, dozens of barbecue-flavored deer sticks, one of Schnoor's most popular products, cooked in one of two 165-degree smokers. Outside, several carcasses hang in a 48-foot-long climate-controlled trailer.
This year, Craig predicts they'll sell up to 6,000 pounds of the sticks, which come in eight different flavors. They also offer three varieties of venison sausage, which Craig estimated they'll produce as much as 8,000 pounds worth by the end of deer hunting season in January.
Additionally, Schnoor's Smokehouse provides high-quality meat to needy families through Iowa's Help Us Stop Hunger, or HUSH, program.
HUSH works with 81 participating lockers across the state and the Food Bank of Iowa.
Craig, who will not accept frozen deer, said hunters should properly field dress and cool their harvest immediately after killing it.
"That will make your deer taste a lot better," he added.
As of Wednesday, Schnoor's Smokehouse had processed 328 deer since the beginning of hunting season in October.
Production has increased every year since they launched their hole-in-the-wall operation, located next to their home in a century-old cattle barn, about 4.5 miles northwest of the Iowa 80 Truckstop.
The Schnoors purchased the 3.5-acre property from Craig's father in 1987, and remodeled the barn, adding the slaughter and smoke room, before opening it to the public six years ago.
Kelly said her husband's resourcefulness inspired the venture.
"He started doing his own deer, and our friends started asking us, 'Hey, can you do ours, too?'" she said.
Eric Storjohann, a butcher and friend of the Schnoors, said the increasingly popular institution has a “fun environment.”
Just minutes prior, as the meat cutters loaded buckets of "inedible" scraps into the bed of a pickup truck, one of the guys tossed a few pieces to the ground for the family's black Labrador retriever.
Later, Craig said he would toss the remains in his compost pile and eventually use it in his vegetable garden.
Between eight and 10 part-timers, including Craig’s mother, Kelly’s father and their daughter, Becca, help keep the family's enterprise on track.
“Everybody who works here has other jobs,” Craig said. “We’re just trying to get everyone’s orders done and get them out the door.”
Although the Schnoors don’t have a website or promote their company on social media, their reputation has spread by “word of mouth,” said Craig, who also butchers up to 150 hogs a year.
In the coming years, when Craig and Kelly retire, they plan to build on the project that's already profiting.
"It's nice being able to do something yourself and be successful at it," Kelly said. "And we like being our own boss."