A single harvested deer donated to feed the hungry can produce 200 meals.
The astonishing amount of food that can be provided to the needy from deer surprises even those who are experts in the matter.
“We even double-checked it,” said Deb Treesh, executive director of the Hoosiers Feeding the Hungry organization.
With the start of the archery deer season this past Saturday, and then continuing through the deer firearms season, which begins Nov. 12., officials with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and such nonprofit groups urge hunters to help provide meals for those in financial need across the state.
The Sportsmen’s Benevolence Fund, administered by the DNR Division of Law Enforcement, offers grants to Hoosiers Feeding the Hungry, the Dubois County Sportsmen Club and Hunters Feeding the Hungry to cover the costs of processing fees when hunters donate harvested and field-dressed deer to the program.
Some form of this program has been around since creation of the fund in 2008, and Hoosiers Feeding the Hungry has been involved since 2011. In 2021, Indiana hunters donated 879 deer that were turned into 45,326 pounds of venison and distributed to food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens to be passed out to needy families.
The need is as great as ever now, Treesh said, but added, “I don’t think so” when asked if the awareness has risen steadily in the last decade-plus. More awareness is needed among hunters.
“The need is so much more than it was,” Treesh said. “People are keeping the deer because of the price of meat.”
She recently visited a supermarket and perused meat costs and concluded, “Oh my, it is bad.”
Capt. Jet Quinlan of the DNR law enforcement division said although the number of donations fluctuates year to year, hunters who participate are glad to help those in need.
“It’s such a worthy cause,” Quinlan said. “It benefits everybody. It’s knowing we’re helping and giving back.”
When a donated harvested deer is prepared, Quinlan said it typically produces 200 meals in venison burgers. The processor will turn the deer into 50 pounds of ground meat, and it is figured four meals per pound of meat results. The nonprofit agencies report back to the DNR at the end of each season.
“That just goes a long way,” Quinlan said of the meat volume, “especially in today’s climate when it is harder to make ends meet.”
Quinlan said consciousness-raising in terms of how some hunters think can assist the program. While many Indiana hunters head into the field with the aim of bringing home meat for the freezer to feed their families, others may be after only big bucks and not bother hunting smaller does.
“They’re passing on that doe because they’re waiting on that buck,” Quinlan said, “but if you have that opportunity, take that doe. It’s going to help Hoosiers who need that doe.”
A deer donated by a hunter will go to a nonprofit agency for distribution in the area where the hunter lives, and the hunter can even designate a specific agency if they wish, Treesh said.
According to the DNR, participating agencies notify food banks throughout the state when venison is ready to be collected from certified Sportsmen’s Benevolence Fund butchers.
Treesh said a hunter who feels the deer he harvested should be enough for his family should think about others, too.
“Get what you need for your family,” she said, “then go out one more time.”
And harvest one more deer so others can eat, Treesh said.