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Hunters for the Hungry donations are down

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Though the general firearms deer hunting season only began Saturday, Hunters for the Hungry, which provides venison to the needy in Virginia, is beginning the season in a steep hole, organizers say.

Laura Newell-Furniss, program director of Virginia Hunters Who Care (VHWC), said Friday that Hunters for the Hungry donations are down by 80,000 pounds of meat statewide through archery and muzzleloading seasons this year, compared with the same period in 2011.

Though many factors could explain the decline, Newell-Furniss said she believes the weather could be to blame.

“I think it has to do with how warm the weather was during archery season,” she said, adding that some bow hunters may have spent time pursuing other interests in recent weeks rather than hunting, resulting in a lack of donations. Since weather also affects deer migration, it also could be harder to harvest deer that aren’t moving as much as they would in windy or rainy conditions, she said.

She also said it was possible there is an economic factor.

“It’s still economy driven,” she said, stemming from “people not having time to hunt” due to having to work more. Those who aren’t employed, she added, might not have the resources necessary.

“I think there are enough deer here in Virginia, if hunters can just get out there,” she said.

To donate, a hunter merely needs to bring a field dressed, legally tagged deer to a participating processor, the release said. VHWC will pay to have the deer processed, cut and packaged. The meat then will be donated to local feeding companies for distribution.

Rolling Meadows Custom Meats in Martinsville is a participating processor in the program. Owner Tim Belcher said he has not seen a reduced number of kills overall.

“We’ve seen a pretty large increase in muzzleloading,” he said. “We’re getting people who are donating to the hunters program” but with the cost of food and the high unemployment in the area, Belcher said a lot of people are keeping the deer they harvest.

Processing a deer typically costs $50-60 for high-grade cuts, he said, noting that this year’s herd is running larger than normal, producing 40-50 pounds of meat. “If you go and buy a family pack of ribeyes and T-bones, you’re going to drop $8-12 a pound and you have nothing, volume wise,” he said.

Belcher encourages hunters to donate to Hunters for the Hungry, and he said he expects donations to rise as gun season begins. “The herd is fat, healthy and abundant,” he said, “so there’s no reason for someone not to be able to kill a deer” as long as they have the proper equipment and property on which to hunt.

Conditions also are more suitable for hunters to go out with a lack of weather extremes. “This year has kind of been set up for a great hunting season,” he said.

Because deer mating season, or rut, happens at different times of the year, Newell-Furniss said it is hard to predict when the ideal time to hunt is.

She does expect donations to pick up in the coming weeks.

“We may be fine,” she said. “It may be that the deer will start moving more (and) hunters will start having more success.”

Belcher said he hopes the Virginia Department of Gaming and Inland Fisheries will open hunting season earlier because the rut has started to begin earlier. During the rut, deer are much more active and can create problems, he said.

For example, when drivers notice more deer that have been killed by vehicles on the side of the road, he said, “you know full rut has hit.”

Belcher said he expects 80-100 deer to be brought to his business for processing during the opening weekend of gun season. After Thanksgiving, he said, it begins to slow down.

Newell-Furniss said bag limits in Virginia are “very liberal,” so she hopes hunters will make an extra trip to harvest and donate a deer to the Hunters for the Hungry program.

“The reason this program has been successful has been the bag limit for the hunters,” she said. “I would encourage them that if they are able to go hunting to harvest the deer for us, or three or four.”


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