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Harvested deer can be donated to food shelves

Deer donated to food shelves can be processed at no or very reduced cost to hunters, thanks to a program coordinated by the Minnesota departments of natural resources and agriculture.

The program is aimed at providing a sought-after food source to those in need while encouraging hunters to harvest additional animals to help manage the deer herd. Prior to 2007, hunters could donate deer to food shelves, but had to pay processing costs.

"We recognize that ethically, hunters will not take more deer than they can consume," said Lou Cornicelli, Big Game Program coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). "Simply asking someone to take another deer to manage populations provides only half of the picture. The venison donation program was developed to provide hunters an avenue to donate the extra deer they harvest without having to pay processing costs."

More details on the venison donation program, as well as a list of participating meat processors, are available online. Processors who accept deer are paid $70 to process each animal for food shelf distribution.

"There are a few processors who are charging an additional fee to cover expenses so hunters should check with the processor prior to donating a deer," Cornicelli said.

Funding for the program comes from surcharges placed on antlerless permits and nonresident hunting licenses. Individuals have an opportunity to donate to the program when they buy their deer license or simply by informing a DNR license agent they would like to donate to the program. In 2009, $35,000 was collected through voluntary donations.

To donate a deer, hunters will need to adhere to the following guidelines:

• Only whole carcasses with the hide on can be donated; processors will not accept cut and wrapped meat or portions of carcasses.

• Information such as permit area of harvest and the DNR number will be collected for tracking purposes.

• Processors can only accept carcasses for donation that are free from signs of illness, free of visible decomposition or contamination, and properly identified with a Minnesota DNR registration tag.

• Processors will reject deer for the donation program that appear to have been mishandled in any way.

Hunters are strongly advised to contact the processor prior to donating the deer. The list of processors accepting deer will be regularly updated as more processors register.