Maryland hunters are expecting one of the most bountiful deer harvests in history this year, with a near-record kill reported for the first day of the modern firearms season, traditionally the key indicator of the season's total take. Unofficial predictions are that 1994 will surpass the 1992 state record of 35,100 wild deer harvested.
This year, the deer hunt will also help the hungry through a statewide effort to donate venison to Maryland food banks and soup kitchens. A ton of deer meat was collected in the early archery and muzzle-loading rifle seasons and the expectation is that some 30,000 pounds will be donated to 12 large central food banks for distribution throughout the state this month.
The Hunters Harvestshare program began two years ago, as a cooperative effort of the Maryland Deer Hunters Association, meat processors, the state and the food banks. Last year, some 15,000 pounds of venison were distributed through the program, which is coordinated by Allan Ellis of Eldersburg, president of the hunters' association.
The goal is to prevent the waste of deer meat, giving it to feed those in need. Mr. Ellis has signed up 60 butchers throughout Maryland to properly store the venison for the food banks to distribute later. Processors will also be paid by a hunters' fund to butcher donated whole deer. The Department of Natural Resources is promoting the program with fliers at all deer-checking stations, listing participating butchers who can process the meat in a safe, healthful manner.
One problem with this and similar programs has been to get recipients to actually use the unfamiliar meat. But soup kitchens and shelters have learned to use ground venison like ground beef in chili, stews or other spiced dishes for maximum appeal.
Deer hunting is popular in Maryland, with an estimated 100,000 Nimrods engaged in the annual fall ritual, only a third of whom will actually bag a deer. It attracts hunters with different goals: the meat hunters, the antler trophy hunters, the marksmen and those seeking the "naturalistic" experience.
"Not every hunter who enjoys deer hunting enjoys eating venison," Mr. Ellis noted. "Venison is normally given away to family and friends, or winds up being thrown out when it could be used by someone in need."
Hunters Harvestshare is a worthy effort to maximize the benefit of deer hunting, preventing needless waste while helping to feed the state's hungry.