As hunters take to the woods this year, not only will they be helping to manage the state’s deer herd, they can also help feed those in need. Thanks to the Share the Harvest program, a statewide cooperative effort among the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Missouri Conservation Federation, Missouri food banks, meat processors and the hunters themselves, meat is provided to those in need through donated venison. 

“Hunting is both an economical and effective way to limit the size of the deer herd,” said Miller County Conservation Agent Eric Swainston. “While some hunters like to hunt to put meat in the freezer, there are some who enjoy hunting for only the trophy buck.  Most people tend to agree it’s wasteful, not to mention illegal, to kill deer that won’t be eaten, so what can they do with the venison?”

Well, hunters can choose to donate part or all of any deer they harvest to the Share the Harvest program, Swainston said. All they have to do is take their deer to an approved meat processor (listed in the 2017 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulations) to process the meat, where it is then packaged for distribution. A family or individual needing assistance only has to contact the participating charitable agencies.

Since the program’s inception in 1992, more than 3.6 million pounds of venison have been distributed. In 2016, a total of 4,280 hunters donated 198,277 pounds of meat, Swainston said.

“It’s easy to donate. Hunters just need to take their deer to an approved processor and tell them how much they’d like to donate,” Swainston said. 

Hunters have the option of donating a few pounds or the whole deer. Processing fees are covered entirely or in part by numerous sponsors, including MDC, Conservation Federation of Missouri, Shelter Insurance, Bass Pro Shops, Missouri Chapter Safari Club International, Missouri Chapter National Wild Turkey Federation, Midway USA Inc., Missouri Food banks Association, Missouri Chapter Whitetails Unlimited, Drury Hotels, Missouri Deer Hunters Association and United Bowhunters of Missouri. Processors pass this savings along to hunters, reducing processing fees. Many processors also have local money available that allows deer to be processed for free or at reduced cost. Be sure to contact individual processors to determine if funds are available. If they aren’t, it is your responsibility to pay for the processing, Swainston said.

If the program receives 10,000 deer this year, 2.4 million individual servings of venison would be available, Swainston said. However, this depends on the generosity of hunters.

Local deer hunters may take their donated meat to The Butcher Shop in Camdenton, Tom’s Slaughter & Meat Processing in Montreal, Leinbach Custom Butchering LLC in Versailles and PBR Custom Meats, Smithton.  Other participating processors throughout the state are listed in the 2017 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulations found at permit vendors.