Deer, bison, elk, antelope, or moose — all are excellent alternative sources of protein against the sticker shock of high beef prices — Eric Longo, area resource coordinator for the Montana Food Bank Network in Missoula, says.
With food prices soaring, Longo said fishermen’s donation programs have grown in scope and demand.
“Hopefully this trend will pick up and more donations will come in,” Longo told The Epoch Times.
Luongo oversees wild meat donations through Hunters Against Hunger, a statewide program that works alongside Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The pilot effort began in 2014 and has expanded to several community food banks and meat processing facilities across the state.
According to MFBN, hunters who legally harvest large game during hunting season can donate “all or part of their meat to feed hungry Montana residents.”
Longo said the network distributed 25,000 pounds of meat last year and provided nearly 21,000 meals to local families in need.
However, prior to the pandemic, the network had received and processed approximately 50,000 pounds of meat annually. Longo said the network hopes to fill that gap this year.
“One of the challenges of the program is to have enough fishermen and enough processors across the state,” Longo said.
Harvest during an epidemic
Longo described the program as a partnership between an estimated 600 to 700 Montana and nongovernmental hunters who harvest the meat, 32 processors who make the final product, and food banks that distribute it.
Program Director Laura Stonecover said Hunters Against Hunger has “really helped” the Gallatin Valley Food Bank in Bozeman, Montana, over the years.
“Many of our customers want locally sourced foods, and bushmeat is one of the best options for providing that,” Stonecipher told The Epoch Times.
Prior to the start of the program, the food bank paid all costs of bushmeat processing.
“Now, we can redirect that money to other nutritional needs,” she said.
Stonecipher said the software also benefits the local economy by helping game processors. Since 2014, the food bank has received more than 70,000 pounds of bushmeat for distribution to customers.
“We already have people asking when the bushmeat will be back in our store,” Stonecipher added.
Kelly Hess, interim co-CEO of Missoula Food Bank and Community Center, said the state’s abundant supply of wild game is a natural boon in the fight against hunger.
“We are very fortunate to live in a country that allows harvested game to be donated to our local food banks,” Hess told The Epoch Times.
“We have some fishermen who hunt specifically to provide meat for our store, and others who donate because they will never be able to eat all the meat they get. Our customers love wild game, and when we get it, it doesn’t last long.”
Idaho Hunters Feeding the Hungry is a nonprofit organization founded in 2002 to provide “big bushmeat” to area food pantries and “food insecure” families.
“With the help of hunters and meat processors, we can turn large surplus game into dietary protein for the hungry,” according to the organization’s website.
The San Antonio Food Bank in Texas also receives donations from the wild game. The Athlete’s Congress runs large-scale meat donation programs.
Big game, big need
“Instead of disposing of legally harvested bushmeat or surplus harvested meat through disturbing, damaging or wasting crops, donation programs have been developed across the country with the goal of turning meat into meals for those in need,” the organization said on its website.
“Many hunters who wish to donate the individual animals they harvest through organized hunting participate in these programs each year, helping to preserve the historical role of hunters as food providers and ensuring bushmeat is not in vain.”
The organization cited research that showed 87 percent of adults would support hunting if the main reason was to buy meat.
Over the past decade and a half, “meat has been the most common and fastest growing motive for hunters nationwide,” according to CSF.
CSF has also found that many states will allow hunters to contribute money to support wild game donation programs when purchasing their licenses.
In 2010, nearly 3 million pounds of deer, elk, antelope, moose, pheasant, and waterfowl meat found its way onto American tables through donation programs.
A deer, for example, can provide about 50 pounds of venison. An adult elk can provide up to 200 pounds of meat.
Longo said MFBN received donations from 22 deer last year, enough to feed hundreds of families.
“The least yield will be the antelope because it is a smaller animal,” Longo said. “The majority are deer, but there is a fair amount of antelope. Bison and moose are less common.”
The issue of food insecurity
All donated meat is sent to a processing facility, ground into burger meat, and wrapped in 1-pound packages for distribution to Montana food banks.
“I know the [program] financing there. “I think it’s a great program and it will continue to grow,” Longo said.
The North Carolina nonprofit Backyard Bow Pro is a network of hunters who combat food insecurity by donating legally harvested deer.
Meanwhile, several states have recently adopted legislation to create or expand bushmeat donation programs.
In 2020, the Missouri Wild Game Bill (House Bill 1711) was passed. Texas has expanded its meat donation programs (HB 2214) to include legally harvested exotics.
In April, the Utah legislature adopted HB 142, which allows hunters to donate wild bushmeat to local food banks.
“If everyone who harvested the elk donated 1 percent, it would be more than three tons of elk meat.
According to Hunttoeat.com: “If the average family meal consisted of 20 ounces of meat, that would produce more than 6,000 meals for people who might not have had a healthy, wholesome meal.”
During the peak of the pandemic in November 2020, Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding encouraged more than 850,000 licensed hunters in the state to donate deer to feed families in need.
The nonprofit organization Hunters Sharing the Harvest coordinated the effort.
“It is a shining example of the good that can happen when public sector support and private sector generosity work together to solve a problem,” Redding said, noting that more than two million Pennsylvanians were at risk of starvation in 2020.