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Food shelves looking for venison donations as hunting opener approaches

Bemidji Community Food Shelf coordinator Jack Judkins inspects the installation of their new split cooler Thursday. The Food Shelf has a couple locker plants to store frozen meat, including donations from deer hunters this weekend. The cooler installation should be complete by the middle of next week. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – As the 2012 deer hunting season gears up, area food banks are encouraging hunters to participate in the state’s Hunter Harvested Venison Donation Program. But as the prices of meat go up and the deer harvest goes down, it’s getting harder for food shelves to get quality meat.

“We may be facing a very challenging winter with regards to getting meat,” Jack Judkins, Bemidji Food Shelf Coordinator, said Thursday. “The price of meat is going up and we haven’t been able to get as much from the state. So any venison we can get from hunters this fall would be great.”

The program is in its sixth year statewide, but the amount of deer donated has decreased from a high of 1,996 deer in 2007 (the program’s first year) to just 421 deer in 2012 – about 15,520 pounds, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The decline in donations is likely due to the fact that there have been smaller deer harvests in recent years. Many areas of the state now only allow one deer per hunter.

“It wasn’t long ago that we saw three to five deer per hunter,” Judkins said. “Now in most areas of the state people can only have one deer.

“It’s a problem, because a lot of people who hunt enjoy eating the venison, and there’s not as much incentive to donate if you only have one deer.”

Bemidji and Fish Company, 3001 Bemidji Ave. N., is the state-approved processor for venison donations in Bemidji.

Owner Jim Sauer said usually sees about 25-30 hunters donate venison per year, depending on the harvest.

One reason for the lower numbers may be changes to the rules instituted in 2008. Lead fragments were found in some venison donated in North Dakota, so Minnesota changed its rules and imposed some stricter policies for processors. Some dropped out because of the new rules.

“Now, every piece we cut and wrap has to be sent down to the state,” Sauer said. “They’ll run it through an X-ray and inspect it for lead particles and either throw it out or send back up here. It’s a little more intensive.”

Judkins said last year’s donations were low in the Bemidji area.

“I doubt very much that we got 100 pounds last season,” he said.

This year, the Food Shelf has received one deer from the recent bowhunting season, but they’re always looking for more.

“When we get it, it goes fast,” he said. “I think food shelves around the state have experienced similar situations.”

One solution, he said, is for hunters to donate part of their deer.

“A lot of hunters don’t know that they can do that,” he said. “They can go in and say, I’ll keep half and donate half. It doesn’t need to be the entire deer. Every bit helps.”

Jack Hittinger

Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.

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