In Pennsylvania county, venison sharing program ‘blesses many people’
SOMERSET, Pa. — Last year, 500 pounds of ground venison was donated to needy Somerset County families through the Hunters Sharing the Harvest program.
The effort, started in 1991, allows hunters to donate deer harvests to feed needy people free of charge. Roger Raley, owner of Raley’s Custom Butchering in Somerset, one of the two sites designated for Somerset County deer, said the program continues to grow and it fed a lot of people last year. Thomas Smoked Meats in Richland is also listed as a Somerset County processor.
“It blesses many people,” Raley said. “Ground meat is universal. They can use it for many different things.”
Raley said the deer he processes goes to the Somerset County Mobile Food Bank for distribution across the county.
Raley said food bank officials have told him that when the choice is between beef and deer meat, many families request venison.
“I think because it is supposed to be healthier,” he said. “That is just my thinking.”
He said one misconception is that there is a fee. The program pays for the processing. He said the first year there was a $10 fee. He said the program is only for deer killed by hunters with a license during deer season, not road kill.
“I think more people are finding out about it,” he said.
State Wildlife Conservation Officer Brian Witherite said that he often receives inquiries about the program. He said that officers donate deer that have been poached or shot incorrectly. The Pennsylvania Game Commission approved 44,000 doe licenses for the unit that includes Somerset County, an increase of 13,000. He said that harvests must remain in the zone they were killed.
“We drop them off there and donate them for (Share) the Harvest,” he said.
State Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar is the program’s Somerset County coordinator. He said that many farmers are overrun with deer damage.
“If you contact your neighboring farmer, you are likely to get a good place to hunt,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity to help our neighbors that are in need without any expenditure other than spending a great day in the woods hunting.”