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West Virginia officials are urging hunters to consider donating any surplus deer, particularly those taken during the antlerless-deer seasons, to the agency’s Hunters Helping the Hungry program.

The head of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is looking for a few good deer.

Not for himself, though.

“I’d like for hunters to consider donating a deer to Hunters Helping the Hungry,” said DNR director Steve McDaniel. “It costs a hunter nothing, and every deer donated helps feed needy people.”

McDaniel wants it to feed even more.

“One problem we’re running into is that not enough people are donating deer,” he said. “Statewide, hunters harvest more than 100,000 deer each year, but only 600 to 800 of those get donated.”

The program allows hunters to drop off unwanted or surplus deer at 18 designated meat-cutting facilities, where the animals are processed and the venison is ground up and packaged in 2-pound plastic sleeves.

Processing fees are paid through monetary donations to the Hunters Helping the Hungry program. The money comes from several sources, but primarily from the annual Governor’s One-Shot Deer Hunt, held each year in Lewis County during the October antlerless-deer season.

“Each year, the one-shot hunt raises about $50,000 toward the effort,” McDaniel said. “A lot of that money comes from the oil, gas and banking industries, many of which sponsor the teams of hunters who participate. In addition, we get donations from individuals and from sportsmen’s organizations.”

Although hunters are allowed to donate deer at any time during the state’s many deer seasons, which stretch from late September through early January, McDaniel said most of the donations come in during the late-November firearm season for bucks and the main segment of the firearm season for antlerless deer, which runs concurrently.

“Really, most of the animals that get donated are taken during the first week of the buck season,” he added. “I wish we could get as many during the [antlerless] seasons as we do during the [buck] season. We could help a lot more people.”

After the deer are processed, representatives of the Gassaway-based Mountaineer Food Bank collect the venison. In early January, food bank officials distribute the accumulated meat to soup kitchens and food pantries throughout the state.

“People at the food bank say the Hunters Helping the Hungry venison is the No. 1 requested item every year,” McDaniel said. “Protein is always a need, and venison is a great source of it.”

The ground venison is rich in protein and low in fat. Soup kitchens use it to make spaghetti sauce, chili and other dishes that would ordinarily call for ground beef.

“Last year, we passed the 1 million-pound mark in donations,” McDaniel said.

According to the DNR’s website, 26,387 deer have been donated in the 27 years leading up to this whitetail season. That’s an average of 977 a year.

McDaniel said he’d like for hunters who head afield this year to consider taking an extra deer or two for Hunters Helping the Hungry.

“I’d encourage them to go out, harvest a doe, call us and find where a processor is, and take it to the processor,” he continued. “It costs nothing, and it helps a lot of people. The generosity of our hunters has made this program a success. We’d like them to help us expand on that success.”

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1231 or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1231 or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.