Indiana DNR pairs hunters, food banks with deer meat

October 22, 2013 at 03:43 PM

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Indiana possesses an abundance of deer and deer hunters who might be able to assuage the pains of hunger that many endure on a weekly basis.

"If the meat is free, we'd love to have it," said Katy Bunder, executive director of Food Finders in Lafayette. "If we have to pay the processing, we don't want it."

That's because Food Finders does not have the funds to pay for the processing. The Indiana Department of Natural Resource's Sportsman's Benevolence Fund removes that barrier.

A newly funded DNR program pays the processing fee for hunters who donate a deer to one of the approved butchers, the Journal & Courier reported (http://on.jconline.com/1gBjqGa ). The fund is not unlike other grass-root programs that have operated with varying degrees of success, except this one received state funding during the 2013 General Assembly.

"This program provides an opportunity for our hunters to demonstrate their concern for their fellow man, allows the DNR another management tool for our deer population and provides nutritious meals to those in need," said Lt. Col. Steve Hunter of the DNR Law Enforcement Division.

"An Indiana sportsman goes hunting for what they need," said Lt. Bill Browne of the DNR Law Enforcement Division. "The opportunity is there for them to continue to hunt."

So instead of just harvesting one or two deer this season, hunters can continue to enjoy the sport, harvesting as many deer as the law permits, which varies from county to county, Browne said. In Tippecanoe County, for example, a sportsman can harvest as many as 12 deer throughout the various deer-hunting seasons.

Gene Mills of Lafayette is a deer hunter who started out processing venison for his family. Over the years, Mills expanded his business, Geneo's Hunting and Fishing at 310 S. 16th St. in Lafayette, to process steaks, chops, roasts, ground venison, sausage and jerky for other hunters.

"My family will go through nine or 10 deer a year," Mills said. "I'm one of the lucky people who has a lifetime license through the DNR, so we kill between 10 and 15 deer a year. I usually give a few deer to needy families. And, I give some venison back to the farmers who let me hunt on their property."

In the past, similar grass-root programs have met with less than ideal results, Bunder said.

"It's not been a very well-coordinated effort," Bunder said. "What's happened to us is people will call us and donate a deer and don't make arrangement for the processing."

D&R Market's owner Pat Johnson said, "Hunters would just donate the deer, and we'd process it for them and send it on down to them."

Like Bunder, Johnson noted the limited success of previous programs.

Licensed hunters can donate a deer by taking it to D&R Market at 105 N. Creasy Lane in Lafayette. Once donated, Johnson or his employees will prepare the animal for butchering, eventually turning it into ground venison, packing it in two-pound packages for delivery to Food Finders or other DNR-approved food banks. They then file a claim with the Sportsman's Benevolence Fund to receive payment.

A deer carcass weighing between 100 and 120 pounds will render about 50 pounds of meat, Johnson said. The basic butchering and preparing of the carcass costs about $100.

Venison is high in protein and very lean, which is nutritionally ideal, Bunder said.

There was a time when meat was rarely found at food banks, Bunder said, but now retailers are helping to make meat available by taking stock off shelves on the "sell-by date" and freezing it. Food banks, then can pick it up and distribute it.

DNR Conservation Officer Matt Tholen said archery deer hunting season started Oct. 1 and runs through Jan. 5. Firearm season — shotgun, muzzle-loader, handgun and rifle — begins Nov. 16 and runs through Dec. 1. A second muzzle-loader season runs from Dec. 7 through Dec. 22.

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Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.