There probably isn't a deer lease in Texas that doesn't need more doe killed than hunters are willing to take.
And for those trying to produce quality bucks, there always are management bucks that need to be removed.
Most years there are about 600,000 deer hunters in Texas. In a good year they will take about 550,000 deer from a herd that numbers somewhere between 3 and 4 million animals.
"In the Pineywoods and Post Oak regions, the harvest per hunter is about .6 on average. So not everyone is taking a deer," said Corey Mason, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department regional wildlife biologist.
That number is the result of a number of factors including closed seasons with the exception of doe days in some counties, a continued reluctance to shoot does and difficult hunting conditions.
However, Mason noted there are very few places in the state and East Texas where there is a concern about the deer population. In fact there are a lot more areas where the concern is under harvest, especially of antlerless deer. That is especially the case in counties with doe days. To encourage more doe harvest, Mason said the department is currently talking about counties where it can expand the number of doe days or initiate them for the first time.
Even in the Edwards Plateau where deer traditionally overpopulate the range, TPWD data shows a harvest rate of just over one deer per hunter per season.
The reluctance to take more deer typically has to do with what to do with the meat after the deer have been shot.
For hunters who quickly run out of freezer space, there is an option that allows them to do their manage work while feeding the hungry. In the last 20 years, Texas deer hunters have provided more than 2 million pounds of venison to the Hunters for the Hungry program, providing an estimated 9.3 million individual meals.
Last year, hunters donated 100,000 pounds of venison statewide. To participate, hunters only need to take their fresh-killed venison to one of the collection sites and pay a small fee to cover the cost of processing. The meat is then ground up and distributed through food banks across the state.
"Every pound of protein provides four servings. Since protein is the most requested item from our agencies and their clients, every pound we can secure is essential," said Lee Pipkin with the Texas Food Bank Network.
Pipkin added that in recent years the demand for assistance has increased statewide.
About 1,800 pounds of last year's meat came from Tyler hunters who donated through Lynch's Food Store.
That is a nice number, but in reality it is only about 60 deer. It should be higher.
Store owner Joe Lynch and the East Texas Woods & Waters Foundation have taken away the only hurdle in participating by teaming together to underwrite the cost of materials and labor so local hunters can donate their venison free.
Pipkin said those involved in the program are supportive of the land owner and hunters' efforts to help the community along with being able to manage their herds and help others.
"If you are food insecure, then yes, definitely it has an impact. But many times we only think of the end user, but the program is a win, win, win. The first winner is the person who receives the processed protein to provide a nutritional food source for their family. Second is the sportsman, who has invested in the land cost or lease cost, and all the additional costs that go along with the sport. Many times they are hunting for the love of the sport and not necessarily for meat for themselves as they may already have a freezer at home that is full from last year."
And while venison may be an odd meat on many urban residents' tables, Pipkin said it is appreciated.
"We hear every year from folks about how essential this source of protein is to them. While initially they may have some reservations about venison versus beef, once they have prepared a meal with it, they are convinced about using venison," he noted.
One idea to increase harvest and donations to the program is to let young hunters shoot additional doe. This not only allows them to hone their hunting skills, but it also teaches them about a crucial step in deer management, what it means to be a sportsman and the importance of helping others.
The program is limited to white-tailed deer and mule deer. USDA rules restrict hunters from donating wild pork or other game.
For those not wanting to haul deer back to the Tyler, there are participating processors statewide. A list is available online at hfth.tfbn.org/deer-proces sors.
To donate deer to the program through Lynch's, the deer must be skinned and quartered. Lynch's Food Store is located at 3400 E. Fifth Street.
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