Instead of discarding or wasting legally harvested game meat or surpluses of meat harvested through nuisance or crop damage licenses, donation programs have developed across the country with the objective of turning the meat into meals for those in need. Many hunters who wish to donate individual animals they harvest through regulated hunting participate in these programs every year, which helps to maintain the historical role of hunters as food providers and ensure game meat is not wasted.
Thanks to the success of wildlife management efforts supported by sportsmen and women through the American System of Conservation Funding, populations of some game species (e.g., white-tailed deer) are at an all-time high in many states. To keep these fast-growing populations in balance with available habitat, and to prevent negative consequences associated with overpopulation (e.g., human-wildlife conflict, damage, and disease), increased harvest rates are sometimes necessary. Though wildlife management agencies can issue permits designed to increase harvest rates and decrease overly abundant populations, there are concerns regarding wasted meat by individuals who harvest more than they can consume. To alleviate these concerns, programs have been developed to distribute surplus game meat to put healthy meals onto the tables of needy citizens. Donating venison and other wild game is a great way to ensure harvested meat is not wasted.
Research has shown that most adult Americans (74%) will support hunting if the primary motivation of the hunter is to procure meat and according to surveys over the last decade and a half, meat has been the most common and fastest-growing motivation for hunters nationwide. Today, it is estimated that the procurement of meat is a motivating factor among roughly 90% of hunters. Game meat donation programs such as Buckmaster’s Project Venison, Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry (FHFH), Hunters Helping the Hungry (HHH), Hunters Sharing the Harvest (HSH), and Sportsmen Against Hunger (SAH) have been established in many states to facilitate the processing of meat and the donations to food banks. An important component of these programs is their ability to gain favor with the non-hunting public and frame the importance of hunting in a way that non-hunters can understand and feel comfortable supporting.
Most states have a venison donation program to feed the hungry, but the greatest obstacle these organizations encounter is a lack of funds for processing costs. Buckmaster’s Project Venison, FHFH, HHH, HSH, and SAH, along with individual state-based programs, such as Wayside Food Programs in Maine, are attempting to change this by inviting all hunters to showcase their hunting heritage as food providers by streamlining the process of donating venison to the hungry.
Points of Interest
- A number of states now allow hunters to donate money to similar programs when purchasing their licenses. This money helps to cover the cost of processing.
- On average, 50 pounds of meat can be taken off of a deer. If ground and used in spaghetti or chili, one deer can feed 200 people at $0.25/serving.
- During the 2019-20 hunting season, 1.62 million pounds of legally harvested game meat was donated to game meat donation programs around the country.
- In the 2017-2018 Quality Deer Management Association members donated 1.73 million pounds of venison to the needy.
- In 2018, the Maryland legislature passed a bill (MD S 182/H 7) that allows individuals to claim income tax credit for donating deer meat to specified non-profit organizations that distribute the meat to those in need.
- In North Carolina, the nonprofit “Backyard Bow Pro” works to build networks of hunters that combat food shortages by donating harvested deer.
- In 2020, Missouri HB 1711 expanded game meat donation opportunities by allowing shelf stable (e.g., snack sticks, jerky, etc.) to be donated along with perishable game meat.
- In Texas, HB 2213 expanded the Lone Star State’s programs by allowing hunters to donate meat from legally harvested exotic species that are commonly pursued in the state.
- In 2022, Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed HB 142 into law giving hunters the ability to donate harvested game meat to local food banks and/or charitable organizations
Legislation that promotes Game Meat Donation Programs
- Kentucky S 55: “An Act relating to the donation of game meat… Create a new section of KRS Chapter 217 to define ‘not-for-profit organization’ ‘take’ and ‘wildlife’; prohibit state and local government entities from restricting the donation of game meat to or from not-for-profit organizations for the purpose of free meal distribution; require that the game meat be from wildlife that was taken in the Commonwealth, properly field dressed and processed, and apparently disease-free and unspoiled.”
- Alaska H 179: “A person may donate fish, game, marine or aquatic plants, or any part of fish, game, or aquatic plants, or a nest or egg of fish or game lawfully taken for subsistence, sport, or personal use to a food service program
Elected officials have numerous and unique opportunities to enhance and modernize the historical role of hunters as food providers by supporting legislation, educational opportunities, and community programs which make providing game meat to the hungry a more streamlined process. To counter the administrative costs associated with these programs, legislators are urged to explore potential funding sources to cover processing costs which will further enhance the ability of these organizations to provide meals for their less fortunate constituents.