Hunters, looking for acceptance, turn to charity Animal activists say it's for publicity

December 29, 1991|By Jim Nesbitt | Jim Nesbitt,Newhouse News Service

BAINBRIDGE, Pa. -- It was a quick kill at daybreak -- Kara Mohr took the broken-horned buck with a shoulder shot at 80 yards on the farm of a family friend.

Her father, Steve, a beefy and bearded redhead, helped his 16-year-old daughter gut the deer. It was shared and bloody labor, a family tradition in the chilly, leafless days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

A day later, far from the forest about 10 miles north of the Maryland line, Kara Mohr learns a new fall rite, a sign of these politically correct times. With a fluorescent orange cap perched on long, reddish-blond curls, she sits on a butcher's cart, posing for television cameras with the head of her dead buck lolling in her lap.

The meat from this deer -- about 50 pounds of venison chops, hamburger and sausage -- will soon be packaged and frozen, bound for a local food bank instead of the family freezer.

With this very public act of charity, a shy high school junior also fires a shot in the ongoing battle between animal rights activists and hunters.

"Everyone thinks of us as out to just kill the animals, but when you think about it, we're helping the animals by keeping the deer population down, and now we're helping people, too," says Ms. Mohr.

It is the perfect line, delivered with a slight smile and squint against the strong morning sunlight in the heart of the nation's top hunting state. It is also part of a public relations counter-offensive by Putting People First, a national organization farmers, breeders, biomedical researchers, ranchers and hunters based near Washington.

In Pennsylvania and 16 other states including Michigan, Ohio, Alabama, South Carolina, Indiana, Texas and Kentucky, hunters are being asked to donate venison to local food banks through a program called Hunters for the Hungry.

Maryland, where 170,000 hunters annually go afield, has no such program. But William G. Ewing, director of the Maryland Food Bank, said he is "enthusiastic" about receiving deer meat but has been unable to find someone to establish a program.

"I am sure there would be a great demand for venison, whether it's in soup kitchens, food-stamp lines or shelters," he said.

Mr. Ewing estimates that at least 715,000 people are hungry in Maryland, among them, 126,000 children. The numbers continue increase as the economy worsens, he added.

"Meat is the single most-requested item from any of our agencies, and it's the one thing that we get very little of because of its high dollar value," he said.

Launched in three states last year, Hunters for the Hungry collected 160,000 pounds of venison. This year, organizers expect to do four times as well in Pennsylvania alone, where more than a million people are licensed to hunt deer and 415,561 bucks and does were killed last year.

Food bank officials like the program because red meat is hard to find, even if it does cross the line of the politically correct.

"We're always looking for new and creative ways to get meat products," said Tim Whelan, executive director of the South Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. "It's not something that should be seen in a negative light."

Mr. Whelan's outfit covers 16 counties, shuttling food to 250 homeless shelters, retirement homes and soup kitchens that feed 165,000 people. He knows he is walking a line between filling a true need and angering the sensibilities of some of his supporters. He speaks the inclusive language of a diplomat.

"We have Buddhist supporters, vegetarians, animal rights activists and now, hunters," he said. "One of the things that have made food banks successful is our ability to forge support from diverse segments of the community."

Silvie Pomicter, president of the Voice of the Animals, a Harrisburg, Pa., animal rights group, speaks in the voice of someone who thinks Hunters for the Hungry is more publicity stunt than act of charity.

"It's just another excuse to kill deer," Ms. Pomicter said. "It's just another public relations ploy to cover up the killing."

Animal rights

Animal rights activists have targeted trappers, furriers, breeders, trainers, biomedical researchers and hunters. Their campaigns against hunting have won recent bans against mountain lion hunts in California, grizzly bear hunts in Montana and have targeted black bear hunts in Florida and elk hunts in Arizona.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Fund for Animals, based in Rockville, wonders whether money spent on guns, clothes, licenses, ammunition, leases and lodges might be better donated directly to homeless shelters and food banks.

"The hunting community was feeling very defensive, very on the ropes, and felt they needed something to get them back on higher ground," Mr. Pacelle said.

Improving a politically incorrect image is on the mind of Ken Brandt, 53, a former state legislator running the Pennsylvania charity effort.

"My selfish interest is to show to people that it's very important that we continue to hunt, that it's important for the environment, it's important for our well-being," Mr. Brandt said.

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