Preparing to Harvest
Coalgate, Oklahoma's H&L Processing meets growing demand
Photo by Paul | stock.adobe.com
When the COVID-19 pandemic impacted operations at several meat processing facilities last year, H&L Processing stepped up to serve clients in the southeast Oklahoma region. Known primarily for its deer processing, the Coalgate-based business experienced substantial growth while strengthening its presence in neighboring communities.
“It was a perfect storm of circumstances,” says Gary Hensley, who co-owns H&L Processing with his wife, Charity. “People were looking for something to do, and those who hadn’t been outdoors for a while put more time into hunting. Almost all processors shut down east of us, and for hunters in that area, we were the closest option.”
The facility, powered by People’s Electric Cooperative, processed 2,200 deer in 2020, and 1,023 of those were brought in during the two weeks of rifle season.
“We only processed 1,100 deer total the year before,” Charity says. “Last year we had great weather for hunting, and a lot of processors were turning away deer because of the beef processing shortage.”
The Hensleys began developing a loyal clientele of hunters after partnering with friends, Chad and Jodi Lackey, to purchase the business from a local processor in 2013. Although the Lackeys decided not to continue the partnership after the first year, Gary says they deserve a lot of credit for the success of H&L Processing.
“We’re still best friends. Chad helped me build the plant, and they played a big part in helping us get the business off the ground,” he says.
To streamline operations and serve as many deer hunters as possible, Gary and Charity keep the processing simple. They offer a basic package of steaks, hindquarters and hamburger. A second option includes the same cuts but with an additional 25-pound batch of summer sausage.
“We don’t ever mix deer; everybody only gets back their own deer,” Charity says. “We’ve got customers who will pass by other processors just to bring us their deer so they can have summer sausage made.”
Jasper Deaton has taken deer and other wild game to H&L Processing since 2016. A resident of Tishomingo, he makes the 30-mile drive to Coalgate for several reasons.
“They’ve treated me like family since the first night I dropped off a deer,” Deaton says. “I like their vacuum sealed packaging and clean facilities, and I like how well priced they are in comparison to other processing plants.”
He says he often refers hunters to H&L Processing, not only for the quality product and courteous customer service but also its contributions to the community. The Hensleys participate in the Hunters Against Hunger program through the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife. When hunters bring in their deer for processing but don’t want the meat, they can fill out a form permitting it to be donated to the local food bank.
In October, the Hensleys hosted their annual social media contest during Oklahoma’s designated youth hunting days. Youth who kill a deer, use H&L Processing to process it, share a photo of it on Facebook, and receive the most likes win prizes and cash.
“Last year we received $2,500 in prizes for kids to encourage them to get out and hunt,” Charity says. “At least 12 out of the 30 kids who participated won some kind of prize.”
With the 2021 hunting season underway, the Hensleys say they enjoy the annual rush of business. Gary works a full-time job at Targa Resources in Coalgate and saves up his vacation time to assist the H&L Processing team during rifle days, the busiest two weeks of the season. While committed to their recent beef expansion, they’re proud to continue serving their original customers who rely on them for wild game processing.
“The community has backed us on everything we’ve done out here—they’ve been good to us,” Gary says. “And we hope all those customers who used us for the first time last year were pleased enough that we can keep their business.”