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Big deer herd feed needy in S. Dakota

November 04, 2009 at 12:39 PM

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Community food banks in South Dakota likely will be the beneficiary again as state wildlife managers try to reduce a deer population that’s seen a decade of growth.

Hunters killed a record 91,000 deer last year, a 46 percent increase over the estimated 62,000 deer taken in 2000.

The Game, Fish and Parks Department has been encouraging hunters to kill more female deer and donate the meat to the Sportsmen Against Hunger program, which last year provided 90,000 pounds of ground venison for distribution to needy families.

Some areas of the state are starting to see fewer deer, but others - especially those with fewer humans - don’t draw enough hunters to kill as many deer as would be preferred, said Tony Leif, director of the wildlife division within GF&P.

“Sportsmen Against Hunger is one of those means we have been using, to some degree successfully, to encourage additional harvest of animals,” he said.

Hunters who donate female deer and other antlerless deer can use a $50 certificate toward the processing costs. Most of the 48 processors who participate in the program charge $50 each. Hunters must pay the difference if the processor charges more.

Also available are $40 certificates to process donated female antelope or fawns.

The GF&P’s wildlife division has budgeted $100,000 this year to help cover costs of the processing certificates. Donations from hunters and corporations also are used.

“We basically raise as much as we can and then we get bailed out by the Division of Wildlife every year,” said Jeff Olson, president of Sportsmen Against Hunger.

Hunters last year donated 1,946 antlerless deer, 257 buck deer, 354 doe or fawn antelope, 20 buck antelope and one elk.

Frohling Meats at Hecla has been part of the program for several years and processed around 90 donated deer last year, said owner Jon Frohling, who charges $50 to process a do nated deer.

“Our normal fee would be $85, so we are donating a little back, too, to supplement that deal,” he said. “We’re just happy to help out.”

Processing the donated deer goes quicker because all the meat is ground up and packaged in 1-pound portions, Frohling said. Three workers could probably complete the process for one deer in about 15 minutes, he said.

The South Dakota Sportsmen Against Hunger program began in the Black Hills in 1993. Donations to date total more than 345,000 pounds of processed meat.

Donations began to increase in 2006 when $30 of processing costs were covered. The following year, the certificates increased to $50 and there was no limit on how many a hunter could use.

“As we found out, a big incentive to get sportsmen to drop a deer off is if they don’t have to pay anything out of their pocket,” said Olson, who also is a member of the Game, Fish and Parks Commission.

Deer licensing last year provided 189,159 dee r tags, often in a combination buck-antlerless license.

“We’ve tried to get those double and triple license into hunters’ hands so when they get their license to shoot their buck they get doe tags along and if the landowner wants additional harvest they already have the tools in their pocket to help them get that additional harvest of those antlerless animals,” Leif said.

“For those hunters who really don’t have the means or desire to take three deer home with them, the Sportsmen Against Hunger program has given them an outlet or a place to go with those other animals they can’t eat themselves,” he said.

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