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One year after Monroe County’s most prominent deer processor announced he was closing, Ernest Thomas says they’re ramped up and ready for another season.

“We’re not turning anyone away yet,” said the 79-year-old Thomas, who has owned and operated Thomas Deer Cooler since 1981.

Last year, Thomas had decided to make the 2020 deer season his last. He said it was hard to find help and his bad back and arthritis were making it harder for him. But then he decided he would turn over his popular business to his grandson Blaine Jones.

“It’s time for him to step up to the plate,” said Thomas. “He wanted it so he’s gonna find out how it is.”

Not that Thomas has stepped away anyway. Thomas said they’ve already taken in 150 deer during bow season. He said on Monday night someone had something happen to a cow and they took it in too.

“I’ve always tried to take a cow if it broke a leg or something to help people out,” said Thomas. 

Thomas said he has customers from all over, and when he tries to close for holidays, they come then too.

Thomas said they’ll call on Christmas and ask if he can gut a deer. 

“I’ll take it but you’re gonna have to go on down the road and find someone else to gut it on Christmas,” Thomas tells them.

After he considered closing last year, Thomas said several people have asked him if he’ll share the recipe for his famous jalepeno and cheese sausage if he ever closes again.

“Naw,” said Thomas, “that’s like Kentucky Fried Chicken giving away its recipe.”

Thomas said they’ll smoke a pig and have hot dogs and chips on Saturday for their annual lunch to celebrate the open of the deer season. Customers and friends are invited. They skipped the annual lunch due to COVID last year.

Asked if he sees the start of deer season and its 7-day work weeks with excitement or loathing, Thomas said: “It’s like I tell people … you kind of look forward to it, but you look for it to leave too.”