Under the light of a nearly full moon, the ten-point buck nibbled at the bushes, ten feet from my front window. The next day, a young deer grazed, unconcerned, close to the house in my back yard. I live in town, in a neighborhood with young families. It’s more common to see deer in the yards this time of year than to see kids.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates the state deer population after the hunting season at about 200,000 animals. Their tremendous reproduction rate, along with some migration from other states, has brought the herd back from a few hundred animals in 1936.
Unchecked, Iowa’s deer herd could grow at a rate of 20% to 40% each year. At this rate, deer numbers would double in as few as 3 years. With Iowa’s abundant agricultural crops providing food, densities could potentially reach 100 or more deer per square mile before natural regulatory mechanisms would begin to affect deer health and slow the rate of growth. Deer numbers this high would cause economic hardship to Iowa’s landowners as well as alter the natural vegetative community. Maintaining a deer population in balance with the wants and needs of the people in the state is a difficult task, but hunting is the only viable management option to achieve this goal. [Emphasis added.]
HUSH, or Help Us Stop Hunger, is a state-sponsored program in Iowa.
HUSH is a cooperative effort among deer hunters, the Food Bank of Iowa, meat lockers and the Iowa DNR. The two main goals of HUSH include:
(1) reducing the deer population while
(2) providing high-quality red meat to the needy in Iowa.
In the 2012-13 deer hunting season, more than 5,200 deer were donated. With partner meat lockers and the Food Bank of Iowa, the state distributed enough venison to generate 880,000 meals.
Iowa’s shotgun deer-hunting season begins December 7, for the general population. Hunters can buy extra permits for antler-less deer. Once the deer has been field-dressed and delivered to a cooperating meat locker, the locker will process the meat.
The state pays the lockers $75 per deer. If an “average” deer yields 60 to 100 pounds of usable meat, the state pays approximately $1 per pound.
Food Bank of Iowa distributes the meat through partner agencies in 55 of the 99 counties in Iowa. These partner agencies include:
– Food pantries
– Soup kitchens
– Homeless shelters
– Shelters for victims of domestic violence
– Nonprofit day care centers
– Residential care centers
– Child and senior programs
With a retail price for beef well above $3.50 a pound, and even bone-in chicken legs at $1.50 a pound, venison is an inexpensive alternative.
Agencies that prepare meals, as well as individuals, can find venison recipes that may be useful. The Ohio DNR offers dozens of recipes at this link.
In Iowa, deer is a plentiful resource for meat. The cooperation of many parties makes it possible to distribute that meat to where it’s needed. In addition, the harvest of deer helps control damage to crops and landscaping alike.
Note: this post is not intended to promote or glorify hunting, guns, or red meat. It is just information about one of the ways more food becomes available to more people. If you want to argue about hunting, guns, or red meat, please do it elsewhere. For over 50 million people in America, hunger is a reality. Food insecurity affects 1 in 6 of the U.S. population, including more than 1 in 5 children.