Hunters help the hungry

A new program donates deer meat to Iowa food shelves.

A coalition of farmers, food banks, meat lockers and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has come up with a way to solve the state’s rising deer population problem and simultaneously provide free high-quality meat to the state’s charities and homeless shelters. The program, Help Us Stop Hunger, was sparked into existence three years ago, when the state’s deer population was soaring out of control because Iowa’s favorite cash crop, corn, provides deer with an inexhaustible food supply. These deer contributed to a number of problems, including damage to agriculture, the environment and over 8,000 deer-related car accidents – a number that rose by 10 percent each year during the last three years.

While the deer in Iowa may not have had to worry about running out of food, this sadly was not the case with for many Iowa families. Last year, 10 percent of the households in Iowa found themselves unable to afford enough food at some point, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These families sometimes had nowhere else to turn than food shelves, soup kitchens and church food programs, which may be unable to afford the $3 to $5 per pound cost of fresh meat for their meals.

The Help Us Stop Hunger program takes that excess deer population and puts it where it can be most helpful – those charities and the people they serve. Here’s how it works: Hunters buy their $27 permit, usually used on a buck, and then can buy extra permits for antler-less deer. Many hunters choose to donate these extra deer to the program. The Iowa DNR has added a modest $1 surcharge onto each deer license sold in the state to pay the $60 cost for the meat lockers to clean and process the deer, making the healthy, high-protein meat free for the hunters, the butchers and the charities or shelters that distribute it. One deer provides 200 servings of meat, and this year many expect Iowa to bring in more than 250,000 pounds of venison through this program.

Elsewhere in the nation, similar programs like the Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry and Sportsmen against Hunger are popping up, and we believe that these are good for conservation, good for hunters and, most importantly, good for the hungry.