Not all successful deer hunters carry home their venison and eventually consume it. Actually, quite a few donate the healthy, protein-rich meat to charitable organizations, but for some hunters that’s when problems arise.
For example, Maryland deer hunter Paul Evans doesn’t worry so much about getting the game he’s after - he usually does - but rather what to do with spare venison after his freezer is filled.
It can be a concern during these times of huge deer populations in almost every state. Gone are the days when a deer hunter was happy just to see a whitetail, never mind getting close enough for a shot. Now many hunters finish their season having killed three, four or more deer.
That’s what troubles Evans, a retired Prince George’s County Police captain.
“I want to help the various organizations that provide venison for the needy,” he said. “But sometimes it’s not easy to find a butcher during the hunting season who is willing to take yet another deer when he’s already swamped with charity work.”
Evans’ complaint is real. Many hunters would be more willing to donate a deer if the process of giving were easier. Although there are meat processors in Maryland and Virginia who give their time to help the needy by cutting, labeling and wrapping venison donated by hunters, Evans believes the system could use a shot in the arm.
“When the registered butchers are overloaded with donated deer, what’s wrong with the state prison system getting involved?” he said.
Evans’ idea seems workable. He believes penitentiary kitchen workers could be trained to process deer, along the way sharing in some of the venison, with the rest given to those who are hungry. Sponsors could be found that would agree to let their businesses be drop-off points for donated deer.
For example, can you imagine the good will and publicity Bass Pro Shops, local tackle stores and maybe Lowe’s or Home Depot would receive if they agreed to accept donated animals, then deliver them - in the case of Maryland - to the Jessup or Hagerstown penitentiaries?
Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, headquartered in Hagerstown, said the donated deer it receives are taken care of by licensed meat processors. The meat is distributed free of charge to community food banks, churches, rescue missions and shelters - generally in the same county where it was donated. The group said it raises funds from supporters to pay participating meat processors an average of $50 to convert a full-bodied deer into cut and wrapped venison.
Virginia’s Hunters for the Hungry asks deer hunters to donate their venison, then arranges to have professional meat cutters process the animals.
“The meat is provided at no cost and is distributed by food banks and other [nonprofit] organizations that feed Virginia’s needy,” the group said. “We are not supported by any state funds, nor are we a United Way agency.”
The organization said the amount of financial support it receives from the public can seriously limit the cost of processing, distribution and overhead expenses, but it pointed out that operation expenses run less than 20 percent of the total income. (In some states, questions have been raised about organizations involved in deer donation programs providing excessive salaries to their directors and staff members.)
The Virginia meat processors charge a fee to cut and wrap the venison, but the charges are far less than the cost of doing the same to, say, a calf or lamb. A $40 donation, for example, will pay to process an entire deer.
To get in touch with Hunters for the Hungry, write P.O. Box 304, Big Island, VA 24526; phone: 800/352-4868; e-mail: email@example.com.