This year has been difficult for many families due job layoffs and losses because of COVID-19, so Miller County Conservation Agent Eric Swainston and MDC are encouraging hunters to help out by sharing their harvest.
In 1992, a program began to help hunters share the deer they harvested with those less fortunate. This statewide system, run by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and the Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM), was the beginning of the Share the Harvest program, which provides an easy way for hunters to donate venison to Missourians in need of protein and red meat. This year has been difficult for many families due job layoffs and losses because of COVID-19, so Miller County Conservation Agent Eric Swainston and MDC are encouraging hunters to help out by sharing their harvest. "Many Missouri families can't afford to have a dependable and regular source of protein in their diets," said Swainston. "Venison helps to fill that void by providing a low fat, yet high protein meat." Since the program's inception, hunters have donated 4.3 million pounds of venison or approximately 17 million meals. Last year hunters donated 348,535 pounds of meat, which included nearly 6,800 whole deer. "Some hunters love the thrill of the chase, but aren't fans of the taste of venison," Swainston said. "This program allows them to participate in the hunt, while also helping others. Also, wanton waste, or harvesting a deer just for sport without using the meat, is illegal." If you harvest a deer, but don't want the meat, Swainston urged hunters not to waste it. Sponsors help offset the cost of processing. These sponsors include MDC, CFM, Missouri Food Banks Association, Shelter Insurance, Missouri Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Bass Pro Shops, Midway USA and Gateway Area Chapter of Safari Clubs International. "All you need to do is take your deer to an approved processor," Swainston said. "Let the processor know if you want to donate part of the deer or the whole thing." If you harvest a deer in the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Management Zone, the deer must be tested for CWD prior to donating. If you happen to harvest a deer in the zone, hunters aren't required to donate it in the county it was harvested, Swainston said. Counties in the zone include: Adair, Barry, Cedar, Chariton, Clark, Crawford, Franklin, Gasconade, Hickory, Howell, Jefferson, Knox, Linn, Macon, Mercer, Oregon, Ozark, Perry, Polk, Putnam, St. Charles, St. Clair, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, Stone, Sullivan, Taney, Warren and Washington. Deer harvested within the CWD Management Zone without proof of CWD sampling or if the head has been removed, will not be eligible to be donated. Hunters can have their deer sampled prior to taking to a processor. They just need to present the CWD barcode number to the processor as proof of sampling. If it hasn't been tested, the processor will collect a sample and submit it to MDC. "Processors who aren't participating in the Share the Harvest CWD Testing Program are unable to accept deer from any CWD Management Zone County," Swainston said. "If you hunt and harvest a deer outside the CWD Management Zone, you may go to any Share the Harvest processor to donate." For more information, contact Tisha Holden at 573-216-8527.