Leier: Celebrate hunters helping feed the hungry
By Doug Leier
In 2013, North Dakota has fewer deer licenses than in any year since 1983, and anyone who was lucky enough to receive a license can only have one for the deer gun season.
That’s a big change from even five years ago when the state allocated more than twice as many licenses as were available this year, and just about anyone who wanted could get more than one license.
It was a time of plenty and many hunters were looking for new ways to use the bounty of venison available.
At the same time that deer license numbers first inched up over 140,000, a new program called Sportsmen Against Hunger came on the scene, working with local wildlife clubs and deer processors to develop a way for hunters to donate venison to community food pantries.
The program was a good fit.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department wanted to issue all the licenses it had available to ensure a good harvest, and many hunters welcomed the chance to get an another license or two so they could spend extra time in the field.
On the other hand, some hunters were reluctant to get an additional license because, even though they wanted to continue hunting after they filled their first tag, they really didn’t have a need or use for more deer. Sportsmen Against Hunger has filled that niche for many hundreds of hunters over the years, providing a way for hunters to donate deer to a good cause.
Sportsmen Against Hunger got its start in 2004, when the North Dakota Community Action Partnership, a nonprofit agency that serves low-income families across the state, initiated a campaign to encourage local community wildlife groups to develop a venison donation program. This campaign began after NDCAP completed a statewide needs assessment which indicated that hunger, or not enough food to feed themselves and their families, was a major factor for low-income people.
The way the program works is that Sportsmen Against Hunger raises funds from wildlife clubs, service organizations and other sources to pay for processing of donated deer, and coordinates distribution of ground venison to food pantries around the state. All hunters have to do is bring their whole deer to a participating processor. The program cannot accept donations of packaged venison.
Since the program began, food pantries have received thousands of pounds of lean, quality protein and distributed it to individuals and families who struggle to meet their daily food needs.
“The meat that is generated is so appreciated by the families who receive it,” said Andrea Olson, NDCAP executive director. “They are all so grateful for access to a nutritious source of protein; something that is often expensive and otherwise difficult for them to obtain.”
The Game and Fish Department encourages hunters to support this program, certainly for what remains of this deer season, and for future years as well.
In addition, starting in 2012 and continuing again in 2013, SAH could accept meat from Canada geese taken during the early season. And for the first time this fall, SAH can accept light goose breast meat that hunters take during the regular goose season.
That’s just another way that hunters can share the bounty from North Dakota’s outdoors.
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org