Wanna step outside? Hunting for the hungry

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 9, 2023

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By Dan Kibler 

For the Clemmons Courier

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself out in the country, running between a relative’s farm and the little country town that’s right down the highway, when I passed a sign on the left side of a road where another road broke off to the left at a 45-degree angle.

“Ronnie’s Deer Processing.”

Ronnie had a job with the state as a prison guard, but saving his four weeks of annual vacation for November and having a couple of good friends willing to work, he turned a backyard outbuilding into a giant cooler and opened a deer-processing business that did between 600 and 800 deer a year.

We did a lot of hunting on that farm for a good decade, and we took an awful lot of whitetails to Ronnie’s for processing. He had a good turnaround time, so we could take in a deer or two we killed the first day or two of our hunt, and he’d have them processed by the time our week was up. He didn’t do anything special — no sausage or snack sticks or jerky, but you could get plenty of hamburger and cube steak in addition to the usual steaks and chops, and my son would occasionally have him leave a ham whole to give to one of his high-school football coaches for a tailgate barbecue session.

The nicest thing about Ronnie’s, however, may have been that it was connected with Buckmaster’s Project Venison. You could take deer you had killed but didn’t need to eat and donate them, and Ronnie would grind them into deerburger and package them in one-pound increments, and they would wind up at a local food bank for distribution to the needy, with Buckmasters footing the processing bill with funds from local chapters’ fund-raising banquets.

We took advantage of that service because, hunting on 640 acres, we needed to take more deer than we could eat in a year just to keep the herd in check. There were weeks when, between us, we probably had four deer processed and donated another four. 

North Carolina has had a similar program, “N.C. Hunters for the Hungry” for 30 years, mostly confined to the eastern part of the state, but this season, a handful of processors in the Piedmont, Foothills and mountains will be accepting deer donations to the program.

The 30-year-old program has branched out, giving hunters across the state access to processors who are approved by the state agriculture agency and who will take deer if they are harvested legally and transported according to N.C. Wildlife Commission standards. Conveniently, many processors are also sites where deer heads can be left for CWD testing by the commission.

According to the group’s website, In past years, hunters have donated around 1,000 deer statewide, good for about 20 tons of deer burgers winding up with agencies that will distribute it to needy North Carolina residents.

“We go into local communities, try to get one or two meat processors who have been inspected by the (N.C.) Department of Agriculture, who would be interested in our program,” said Dr. Liz Rutledge, a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Federation, who directs HFTH. “Each processor is reimbursed $60 per deer, or $50 if the deer is already skinned, for processing it into 1- to 2-pound packages of ground venison.”

Rutledge worked with 18 processors last season and said that she tries to expand the program every year, calling processors to see if any would be interested in joining the program and then trying to find a civic group or wildlife club in the area to help fund it.

NCHFH advises hunters interested in donating deer for processing and distribution to contact the processor closest to them, determine exactly what condition it will require a carcass to be in for donation and when carcasses can be donated, and make arrangements to donate a deer after you’ve killed it and reported the kill appropriately.

Processors in the program located in a wide area that serves a number of Piedmont counties include:

  • Alleghany Meat Center, 2440 Hwy 21 S, Sparta, 336-372-4343;
  • Albemarle Meat Processing, 1718 Blanche St., Albemarle;
  • Wildlife Processors LLC, 505 Clayton Carriker Rd., Ellerbe, 910-995-5308;
  • Craven Deer Processing, 1523 S. Fayetteville St., Asheboro, 336-625-4321;
  • Triad Meat Co., 3023 Randleman Rd., Greensboro, 336-275-5671;
  • The Deer Shack, 216 Helms Dr., Mt. Holly, 704-718-9135;
  • Hursey’s Wholesale, 2174 Hwy 87 N, Elon, 336-260-5995.

For more information, go to www.nchuntersforthehungry.org.