Sharing Venison is a Win for Everyone
I had the pleasure of interviewing Josh Wilson, the executive director at Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry (FHFH), for the Coffee and Deer show last week. The episode is featured in today’s NDA On Watch newsletter. Some of you may be familiar with the organization and possibly even taken advantage of it. I have donated several deer through their program and have also made a monetary donation each time.
Impressively, FHFH has provided 20.2 million servings of meat since 1997. In 2018-2019, the group supported the donations of 3,850 deer, elk or livestock and a total of 178,668 pounds of meat, which accounted for 714,672 servings. As impressive as that is, Josh mentioned during the show that his organization is just one of many like it, and there’s also the high percentage of hunters who share their harvest privately.
In our members’ survey on February 24, 2016, we asked how many hunters shared venison that they harvested and learned that an impressive 84% do. We then asked if the donations were through a formal program like FHFH and we were surprised to learn that only 12% indicated they were. In other words, of the 84% of hunters who share their venison just 12% do so through a formal program, which means only a small percentage of donations are being tracked and reported. Just imagine the millions of venison servings that are shared by hunters during a single season!
The list of great reasons for sharing venison is long, but a couple of the more popular ones are to help feed those in need and to provide it to someone who is a non-hunter or is no longer able to hunt themselves. Undoubtedly some of you are snickering thinking about hunting buddies who came up empty during the season and you did them a solid by sharing some of your luck. In addition to helping others with your donation, you may not have considered that sharing venison is also a great way to keep you in the woods, while also supporting state deer management goals.
I had a conversation with my dad the other day that illustrates this well. He mentioned to me that he was surprised that there were still a few thousand antlerless tags available in the units he hunts. Despite being allowed three tags, he only applied for and received one. As he put it, “I only need one because if I get a buck then I’d have two deer.” Of course, he wouldn’t want to put more deer in his freezer than he could use, but why not get more time in the woods by planning to donate whatever you didn’t need? I pointed out that the local processor participated in a free donation program and that all he would have to do is drop off any deer that he didn’t want.
I know by reading comments from members each week that many believe you shouldn’t shoot a deer that you don’t plan to eat yourself, but I disagree if you know the meat is going to someone who can use it. Not only are you helping someone out, you are also doing your part to make sure deer are being managed per your state’s goals for the area. I worry when I see leftover antlerless tags, especially when they number in the thousands. That tells me that there aren’t enough deer hunters in the woods, and the result will be too many deer in the field, ultimately leading to unhealthy herds and habitat. The ability to share venison can help address this issue.
Maybe you’re reading this thinking you would love to donate some of your venison, but you don’t have a local program, or know of anyone who might take it. If that’s the case, I’m guessing you haven’t asked around. Last year I shot a second doe on a hunt with my friend Ron Haas in Delaware on a property where keeping the population at a suitable level is an ongoing challenge. I already filled my freezer, and Ron assured me that he would have someone to take this deer, and any others I might shoot. As we drove down the road, he called several numbers before finally someone said they would love to have the deer. I told him I was starting to get nervous that we wouldn’t find a taker, and he laughed saying, “I wasn’t even halfway down my list yet.”
If you make it a priority to let people know you’ll likely have venison to share, you won’t have any problems developing a list like Ron’s. You can mention it at work, the family reunion, or other gatherings for starters. If you want more names, be a bit more creative. Earlier this year I realized I had more meat in my freezer than I needed, and I put together a nice bag of cuts for a contractor who was working on my house. He loved it, and said he’d take more if I had it. Although it might take a little effort, donating venison keeps bellies full, allows hunters more opportunities, and assists wildlife managers with maintaining healthy deer herds and habitat. That’s a win for everyone.