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Reduced deer tags may be bad news for food shelf

Seven years ago, a program began in Minnesota to make it easier for deer hunters to contribute their extra venison to their local food shelves. The program is usually supported well by hunters in the Perham area; however, tighter deer limits tend to drastically reduce the number of donations – and that’s a likely scenario this year.

Venison is popular among those who use the Perham Community Food Shelf, said John Leikness, the non-profit’s executive director.

In 2011, the food shelf received 800 pounds of venison, and some moose, through the donation program.

“It’s very well received,” Leikness said, noting that the frozen venison received in January was gone by July.

The following year, however, was a completely different story, with only 60 pounds of venison donated by Perham area hunters in 2012.

What changed that year?

The number of deer each hunter was allowed to take was reduced. Most Perham area hunters only had one tag available in the 2012 season, because antlerless bonus tags were not made available.

The bonus tag came back the next year, and with that so did donations. In 2013, the Perham food shelf took in 600 pounds of donated venison.

With the DNR setting a more conservative hunting season this year for the zones surrounding Perham, Leikness said he isn’t sure whether the food shelf will receive many donated deer. He said he suspects that they will face a similar situation to 2012, since does or fawns taken with a bonus tag seem to be the animals donated most often – after the hunter’s own freezer has been filled.

“It’s great, when they have the resources,” Leikness said of the hunters who use their extra tag for donations.

While the reduced amount of meat may not seem like much, Leikness said use of the food shelf has gone up by about 17 percent in recent years, so every donation is all the more welcome.

Leikness asked hunters to keep the venison program in mind if they have a land owner’s tag that might not get used otherwise, or if someone enjoys hunting, but not eating venison, and throughout the upcoming holiday season.

Minnesota’s venison donation program is made possible by a partnership between the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture.

A hunter can donate a deer that he or she took by bringing it to an approved processor, who then packages the meat and sends it to the local food shelf. Aside from the tag, there is no cost to hunters to participate.

In Perham, Al’s Butcher Blend is where deer can be dropped off for processing through the program. It is suggested to call 346-4015 before bringing in the deer.

All donated animals must be:

-Field-dressed with the hide intact.

-Free from signs of illness.

-Free of visible decomposition or contamination.

-Properly identified with a Minnesota DNR registration tag.

Processors will reject deer that appear to have been mishandled or are unfit in any way. Meat that has been cut and wrapped elsewhere will not be accepted.