Hunters for the Hungry provides meals for the needy. LARRY WOODY

Almost 8 million meals.

That’s about how many servings of donated venison were provided to needy Tennesseans through the Hunters for the Hungry program since its inception in 1998.

Operated by the Tennessee Wildlife Federation and supported by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Hunters for the Hungry partners with about 80 commercial deer processors across the state to provide venison for those in need.

Donations of harvested deer increased in recent years, thanks in part to the state’s robust deer herd and also because more and more hunters are becoming aware of the program. Last year, Hunters for the Hungry provided enough venison for about 600,000 meals, bringing the total to more than 7.6 million.

Venison, lean and with no artificial additives, is one of the most healthful and nutritious meats there is. It can be served in a variety of ways, from pan-fried to pot-roasts, sausages, stews, burgers and chili.

Here’s how it works.

A hunter takes a harvested deer to one of the game-processing plants that partners with Hunters for the Hungry. Hunters can contact their local processing plants in advance to see if they participate in the program, and what, if any, cost is involved.

Processing fees vary from plant to plant. Some charge no fee to process a donated deer, while most others offer a discount.

The donated deer must be field-dressed and should be dropped off as soon as possible after harvesting to avoid spoilage.

Each deer must be accompanied by a kill tag verifying that it was legally taken.

The hunter can stipulate that all or part of the processed venison is donated to Hunters for the Hungry.

If the entire deer is donated, that’s all the hunter has to do – drop it off. If only a portion of the venison to be donated, the hunter can return when the processing is completed and pick up his share.

Once the venison is processed and packaged, the processor contacts a representative for one of the Hunters for the Hungry partners, who will collect the packages for distribution. Associations that distribute venison to the needy include the Second Harvest Food Bank and church and civic organizations.

Any group interested in getting some of the venison can contact Hunters for the Hungry through the Tennessee Wildlife Federation website, TWRA or participating processors in their area.

By state law, only venison that was processed by a licensed meat processor can be donated. Hunters for the Hungry cannot accept venison that has been home-processed.

With the state’s liberal antlerless deer limits – three a day in most Middle Tennessee counties – hunters may harvest more than they can use. After their freezer is full, they can continue to hunt and provide venison for others.

The program casts hunters and hunting in a positive light and supports a good cause. Hunters for the Hungry benefits all involved.

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