By the end of the last deer season in January, the Georgia Hunters for the Hungry Program collected enough meat to make nearly 13,000 pounds of ground venison, the organization reported. For the record, the meat is processed in state-inspected facilities and delivered to food banks in Georgia.
It would be hard to find a more healthful protein source. Venison has the advantage of being leaner and a little higher in protein than beef. It also has more niacin and iron and provides vitamins B12, B6 and riboflavin plus higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. For some people, venison may be a little gamey but in chili, stews and sausage, it is tasty. The best sausage I’ve ever had was made with venison by a dear friend, now departed, who lived in Gilmer County, where they like deer meat.
For the 2013 season, the Georgia Wildlife Federation decided to give their generous hunters a break and restored the system for sponsor-paid venison processing. The hunters responded with a dramatic increase in donating harvested deer. In the previous two seasons, the hunters had not only provided the venison but also paid the processing costs.
Since the Hunters for the Hungry Program started two decades ago, more than 325,000 pounds of ground venison have been donated to food banks in Georgia. A lot of hungry folks have benefited from this good work, thanks to the hunters and a long list of organizations that support the program.
The list starts with the Georgia Wildlife Federation and its corporate sponsors, including Middle Georgia electrical cooperatives and Wal-Mart, which have made grants to provide for more than 60,000 meals for the program. The state Wildlife Resources Division is also involved, and, at the end of the chain, the Georgia Food Bank Association, another story in itself. Through its seven regional food banks and more than 2,300 partner agencies and pantries, GFBA distributes upward of 103 million pounds of food a year throughout Georgia.
Deer hunting has a twofold benefit currently in Georgia. Not only does it provide food for needy families, but it also helps control the deer herds that can rapidly grow too large for their natural habitat to support. The problem has reached such a point on Jekyll Island that earlier this month, a control plan under consideration there included hiring sharpshooters to cull the deer herd.
The conservation director of the Jekyll Island Authority, Ben Carswell, told the Brunswick News a committee studying the deer overpopulation has also considered controlled hunting, controlling reproduction and reintroducing natural predators such as bobcats to thin the herd.
If thinning is needed, it seems a good option would be to bring in some of the deer hunters who have made good use of their hunting harvests by contributing to the Georgia Hunters for the Hungry Program.