White tailed-deer are definitely the most important game animal in New York. And deer hunting is strongly rooted in the social fabric of the North Country. In fact, I know of several families that plan their fall season around the deer hunt.
As for me, I really enjoy the outdoors and getting out into the woods, but I've never really been an avid hunter. Many of my friends, however, consider deer hunting season their favorite time, or at least one of their favorite times, of the year. They light up with anticipation as the season nears and speak with intense joy, tremendous enthusiasm and sometimes profound wisdom about deer camps, tree stands, sighting in rifles, making the effort, braving the cold, the snow and the wind, and about how hearing the grunt of a trophy buck can make your heart pound and catching sight of him can take your breath away.
It's fair to say that most deer hunters enjoy cooking with and eating venison (deer meat), which is high in protein and lower in fat content than beef or pork. It tastes good, too. And having 45 or 50 pounds of tasty, lean meat in the freezer can be a real asset, especially when there are bills to pay.
While many of us were fortunate enough to have bagged a deer or two during hunting season and have meat in the freezer this winter, many Americans, including a lot of New Yorkers, are hungry. And a fair percentage of those who are hungry are children. In fact, according to a United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service report, in 2009, 50.2 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, 1.1 million more people than in 2008 and up from 36.2 million in 2007. Food-insecure households are those that lack consistent access throughout the year to adequate food for active, healthy living for all household members. The 2008 and 2009 levels are the highest recorded since national monitoring of food security began in 1995. That same report states that in 2009, 12.4 percent of New Yorkers lived in households with low or very low food security.
Even more astonishing is the fact that in 2009, 17.2 million food-insecure Americans were children! That's about 23 percent of the children in this nation! 988,000 (1.3 percent of American children) lived in households with very low food security, a USDA term previously denominated "food insecure with hunger," meaning one or more people in the household were hungry over the course of the year because of the inability to afford enough food.
Currently, more than 11 percent of the U.S. population depends on nonprofit food distribution organizations for a significant part of their nutritional needs. It is estimated that there are about 150,000 such private programs in the United States, helping to feed the hungry.
With this in mind, I was especially intrigued when, during the halftime program of the AFC playoff game between the Jets and the Patriots, one of the guys I was enjoying the game with handed me the December/January issue of Outdoor Life magazine and told me to have a look at an article titled "Venison Power." The article opened with mention of Tennessee hunters who donated more than 100,000 pounds of venison to local food banks across that state during the 2009-10 hunting season. The article went on to say that, according to a survey conducted in 2010 by Safari Club International, which looked at donation efforts in 42 states and at two national programs, nationwide game donations for that year most likely exceeded 5 million pounds. SCI is a hunter advocacy organization that also funds and manages worldwide programs dedicated to wildlife conservation, outdoor education and humanitarian services through the Safari Club International Foundation, a charitable organization.
When SCI started the program known as Sportsmen Against Hunger in 1989, they had one simple goal; facilitating links between game meat donors, wild game processors, and the food banks, soup kitchens and other charitable organizations that feed hungry Americans. Since then they have assembled a vast network of people and organizations who, in 2009, donated, received and distributed contributions of more than 415,000 pounds of game meat to needy families and individuals. The program, which distributes nearly 250 million meals annually, is active in all 50 states, in parts of Canada, and in several other countries around the world.
There are two Sportsmen Against Hunger Chapters serving New York; The Adirondack-Catskill Chapter and the New York Tri-State Chapter. In 2009, the Adirondack-Catskill group provided 4,750 pound of venison to those in need and the New York Tri-State Group supplied 700 pounds.
There are several other, similar organizations working to unite hunters and the hungry. One of those mentioned in the Outdoor Life article is Hunters for the Hungry. For information on local Hunters for the Hungry operations in your area, you can contact the National Rifle Association Hunter Services at 703-267-1503. Other organizations include Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, and Hunters Sharing the Harvest. Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry are active in New York state but not in this area.
The Venison Donation Coalition is a nonprofit organization that has been actively connecting New York's hunters with meat processors, and processors with food distribution networks in New York State since 1999. They are seeking donations of both venison and money. For more information, please call 1-866-862-DEER (3337).
But it isn't necessary to network with huge multi-state or international organizations to participate in a program like this. The organizations that I mentioned in this article all started out as little more than a couple of hunters, a processor, and two or three hundred pounds of meat. Successful hunters can form groups that help feed neighbors and friends through the activities at their hunting clubs, community organizations or churches. And whether you donate meat, money or time, your generosity is sure to have an impact.