Since its inception in 1998, Hunters for the Hungry has provided meals for more than five million needy Tennesseans.
The program has grown in recent years, thanks in part to the state’s robust deer herd and also to more and more hunters learning about the program and its benefits.
Also, donating venison has become more convenient as more deer-processing plants participate. There are now at least 84 processing plants in 64 counties across the state that supply venison to Hunters for the Hungry.
Last year Hunters for the Hungry served approximately 600,000 meals.
Venison, lean and without fat, is one of the most nutritious meats there is, and can be served in a wide variety of ways, from roasts and prime back-straps to stews, burgers and chili.
Here’s how it works:
A hunter takes a harvested deer to a cooperating processing plant. (A list of plants is provided by the Tennessee Wildlife Federation and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Hunters can also contact their local plants and ask if they are participating in the program.)
Each donated deer should be thoroughly field-dressed and dropped off as soon as possible to avoid spoilage.
Each deer must be accompanied by a kill tag showing that it was legally taken.
The hunter can stipulate that all or part of the venison be donated to Hunters for the Hungry.
Some processing plants charge a processing fee, even if all the venison is donated. Most, however, offer a discount for processing donated venison, and some do the processing for free. Hunters can check with an individual processor to see what his policy is.
If the entire deer is donated to Hunters for the Hungry, that’s all the hunter has to do; otherwise he can return and pick up his portion when the processing is completed.
Once the venison is processed and packaged, the processor will contact an official with one of the Hunters for the Hungry programs and they will pick up the frozen packages of meat.
Associations that collect and distribute the venison to the needy include the Second Harvest Food Bank and various church and civic organizations. Any group interested in collecting some of the donated venison can contact Hunters for the Hungry through the Tennessee Wildlife Federation website.
By state law, only venison that has been processed by a licensed professional processor can be donated to the program. Hunters for the Hungry cannot accept venison that has been home-processed.
With the state’s liberal antlerless deer limits, more and more hunters are able to harvest more than they can personally use. Hunters for the Hungry is a way to provide meals for the needy, while allowing a hunter to continue to hunt after his own freezer is full.
It is also good for the image of hunting, at a time when hunting is under fire from animal-rights activists and gun-rights critics.
Hunters for the Hungry is a good cause that benefits everybody involved.