Taking a moose usually means carrying home 500 pounds of meat. Cutting and preparing that meat can take all day. But Bill Howell can do it in a few hours. Add another Bill and they can do it in half. KYUK takes us to a small shop where customers come with legs and torsos, and leave with packages of steaks, ribs, roasts, and other tasty meats.
Bill’s Meats is a small 16 by 16 foot building off the Bethel highway. If you’re not looking you’ll miss it, but once you arrive, you'll know you’re in the right place. On a deck stands a pile of blood-stained white bags.
Bill Howell, the son: “That’s a hind quarter. That’s probably back straps.”
Bill Howell is better known for being Bethel’s Fire Chief, but he's taken three weeks off of fire duty this moose season to focus on cutting meat.
Bill Howell, the son: "The fall moose season is a very short and very intense time."
Bill and his team cut meat 10 hours a day, seven days a week, even after the hunt closes.
Bill Howell, the father: “So I’m going to make a batch of burger."
Bill’s right hand man is his dad, also named Bill Howell.
Bill Howell, the father: “For proper mixing, you leave your fingers open. Otherwise, you scrunch it together.”
Bill Howell, the father, is working beef fat into the lean moose meat. Eighty percent meat to 20 percent fat makes a juicy burger. When it’s done, it all goes through the grinder again.
Bill’s Meats started in 2009 in Bill Howell, the son’s, yard. There weren’t any game butchers in town and the business took off. In the intervening years it has received two Best in the West small business grants and moved from its neighborhood location to the highway.
Bill Howell, the son: “We have a 7.5 horsepower Hobart size 52 meat grinder. It grinds 95 pounds of meat a minute. We’ve got a 2 horsepower meat saw so we can cut through bones, and we’re trained meat cutters.”
Bill trained under his father when his dad managed the meat department for Bethel’s old ANICA Family Store. The building is now AC Quickstop.
His father trained decades before that, becoming a journeyman meat cutter in the early 1970s in Washington state.
Bill Howell, the father: “We were knife men. Knife men were the hardest working men. They were production men. They produced with knives. They boned out whole carcass beef.”
Bill Howell, the son: “He’s a machine. He just turns it out like you wouldn’t believe. Look at him.”
His dad takes only 40 minutes to cut 200 pounds of moose into roast and cubes of stew meat.
Bill Howell, the father: “I know it sounds crazy. I’m on Social Security. I’ll be 70 years old in five days, and I still love cutting meat.”
This season is the older Bill’s first time cutting meat in 15 years. He had moved to Nome, worked different jobs, bought a restaurant, and went bankrupt.
Bill Howell, the father: “So my children invited me, Bill especially, 'Come on dad, let’s cut meat.'”
Though younger Bill is the son, he’s clearly in charge, and his Dad, always cutting, keeps the product moving.
Bill Howell, the father: “I consider it an honor and a privilege to be able to still serve the community and have some usefulness.”
The work looks backbreaking. The men are standing all day, slinging tubs holding hundreds of pounds of meat. It’s perpetual motion, efficiently performed in a tight space amidst flashing blades and giant tools designed to slice flesh and bone.
The communication and coordination seems to require a certain trust, like that which exists between a father and son.