Share the Harvest Donations Near Record Level

Send by email Printer-friendly version Share this

Telling every successful hunter about donating venison helped offset tough hunting conditions and the closing of check stations.

Private conservation officials credit Missouri's new electronic game-checking system with saving the day for needy people statewide. Without a boost from Telecheck, they say, many more Missourians might be having trouble putting food on the table.

Dave Murphy, executive director of the 50,000-member Conservation Federation of Missouri, said his organization processed hunter donations of at least 258,191 pounds of venison during last year's deer season. That is just 6 percent less than last year's record figure of 275,374. Murphy says he considers that a phenomenal success.

Murphy notes that several factors could have caused 2005 venison donations to be much lower than they were. For one thing, hunters had a tough year. Abundant acorns caused deer to be more scattered and harder for hunters to find. Overall, Missouri's 2005 deer harvest was down 8.3 percent compared to the record set in 2004.

"Hunters killed almost 26,000 fewer deer than they did the year before," said Murphy. "That was a very worrisome fact for folks at food banks and homeless shelters. They have come to rely on venison donations to help them feed hungry people. If you assume that hunters are putting the first deer they shoot into their own freezers, then killing one to donate, you would expect that kind of harvest drop to hit hard."

Program organizers also worried about how the elimination of check stations would affect venison donations. In previous years, local Share the Harvest workers met hunters at check stations in many areas and encouraged them to donate meat. With the replacement of check stations by telephone and computer deer checking, that point of contact disappeared.

"A very considerate action by the Conservation Department really rescued the program, in my opinion," said Murphy. He said the Telecheck system was already set up when Share the Harvest organizers realized the possible impact that eliminating check stations might have on donations. The Conservation Department already had a contract for the service spelling out voice prompts that hunters would receive when checking deer. But at the Conservation Federation's request, the agency changed the system to include Share the Harvest in the recorded message.

"Each and every successful hunter telechecking their deer heard our message," said Murphy, "not just those who happened to go to a check station where one of our volunteers was working. There is no doubt in my mind that the reminder made a tremendous difference."

Murphy said 2005 Share the Harvest donations could still top the previous record. He said invoices from meat processors who took part in the program are still coming in. "It is possible that we may yet surpass last year's totals," he said. "To me, that is amazing."

Share the Harvest was established in 1992 by the Columbia Area Archers and the St. Louis Longbeards chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. The goal was to give hunters an easy way to donate deer meat to the needy. Since then, the program has grown from collecting a few hundred pounds of venison to funneling more than 100 tons of meat annually into food banks and local charities.

Hunters can donate all or part of deer. In many cases, money is available to pay for processing of whole deer, making the donations free for hunters. This is made possible by donations from hunter groups, local businesses and large corporate donors, including Bass Pro Shops and Shelter Insurance.

Although Share the Harvest is a statewide program, it is organized and operated at the local level by a civic club or sporting group. The first step in setting up a Share the Harvest program is to find at least one deer processor and one charitable agency to participate in the program.

The organizing group then contacts the local conservation agent. The agent provides information and advice and ensures that both the packing house and charitable organization are reliable.

For more information about Share the Harvest, visit www.missouriconservation.org/hunt/deer/share/ or contact the Conservation Federation at (573) 634-2322, [email protected].