Hunting for a cause
Decatur, Alabama — For many Americans hunting is a vehicle for connecting with nature and the great outdoors. Just look at the numbers: a five-year report found that 101.6 million Americans participated in hunting, fishing and wildlife activities in 2016.
Hunting also puts food on the table for many American families. A state-by-state program called Hunters for the Hungry shares venison (deer meat) with those most in need. A 2010 study found that 11 million meals are served annually from the program.
The program is working in Alabama, where 450,000 pounds of ground venison have been donated to food banks within the state.
“Many hunters are hesitant about taking more deer than they can personally use, and the program assures them that the deer they harvest will be used, and nothing goes to waste,” said Lt. Jonathan Stone of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. “The program is a win for everyone involved.”
The program also keeps deer populations in check, added Jason Vehrs, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) law enforcement officer.
“Large game like deer do not have a substantial natural predator base, and without hunting, populations of those species overpopulate,” said Vehrs, who is stationed at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. “They out eat their food sources, which leads to starvation and disease within those populations.”
Alabama sportsman Stephen “Stevie” Scott agreed.
“I think it’s a great program for hunters and for the cause, it helps hunters who manage their deer herd,” said Scott, a program participant who’s been hunting for nearly 25 years. “You don’t want to kill something you don’t want to eat, and this way you can manage your herd and also give the meat to a good cause.”
A family business
A cold rain struck the roof and windows of Sutton Deer Processing, a family-run business in the middle of the woods near Decatur. But it was warm inside, where Deborah Sutton takes deer and renders them into food.
It’s a family-owned business — children’s artwork and photos decorate the walls — that opened in 2007. That same year, the processor began participating in Hunters for the Hungry.
Thanks to a state reimbursement program, Sutton and processors like her, are able to process the meat free of charge for those who donate. The Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources Foundation pays processors $1 per pound of donated meat. “Hunters for the Hungry really helps out for a lot of people, and I really enjoy it,” she said.
Sutton herself is a longtime hunter, though she admits these days with her busy business she’s not able to hunt as much as she’d like. The biggest misconception Sutton hears from non-hunters?
“That we’re just killing deer for the fun of it, or that it’s a sport. But it’s not, it’s a way of life,” she said. “It’s a way of living and feeding your family, and other families who aren’t able to harvest their own meat.”
The program allows hunters to do good things while enjoying the outdoors, said Janice Wilson of Decatur.
An avid hunter and outdoorswoman, Wilson is comfortable using both gun and bow. She describes herself as a “woman whose husband can get away with buying a tree-stand as an anniversary present.”
She and her husband Hudean are long-time program participants. “It’s a great program and there’s always someone in need. It seems to really make a difference,” said Wilson. “We only take a couple of deer a year a piece to keep in the freezer, and everything else we donate.”
To learn more about the Hunters for the Hungry Program, and how to participate in your state visit https://hfth.nra.org/get-involved/.
Katherine Taylor, Digital Content Specialist
Katherine_Taylor@fws.gov, (404) 679-7125