Mississippi has huge deer population, huge number of hungry people. Hunters’ program connects the dots.
Published 8:51 pm Saturday, September 16, 2023
Mississippi has one of the highest deer populations entering the 2023 season, according to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. It is also the number one hungriest state in America with 1 in 4 people not having enough food to eat.
Mississippi Food Network reports 600,840 people in the state struggle with food insecurity. It would also take $300 million to meet the food needs of every hungry person in this state.
Mississippi’s Wildlife Federation offers an opportunity for hunters to help Mississippians in need. Hunters Harvest is a program created 11 years ago to help provide lean protein to food pantries across the state. This year, hunters can make a difference by donating a deer or part of the deer they harvest to the MWF program.
Robin Carlin, director of operations at the Mississippi Wildlife Federation, said it takes just one pound of deer meat to make four meals. MWF funds the processing of donated deer, so it doesn’t cost the hunter a dime.
“They can go to their local processor and say I harvested this deer and would like to donate either the whole deer or a certain number of pounds,” Carlin said. “We pay the processor and ship them boxes of 2 pound meat bags to each processor to package the meat in to give to charity. Most of them have a local charity of choice or a church. We work with three food banks, Mississippi Food Network, Mid South Food Bank and Feeding the Gulf Coast.”
It is a great year for hunters to harvest more deer and donate one to Hunters Harvest. Dry conditions are not favorable for a good mast crop in Southwest Mississippi this year, and it is likely the native browse and forage will not be enough to support healthy deer.
While supplemental food plots are a way for hunters to help the deer population get through stress periods, harvest is another useful management tool. MDWFP states hunters need to harvest more this season as the state population are higher than the habitat can support.
Hunter’s Harvest took 21,000 pounds of venison last year and distributed the meat to charities.
Currently, there are just 26 participating deer processors across the state. Lincoln County hunters can donate through Diamond J, Boyd and Knight’s Deer Processors. Carlin said she would love to get more processors and hunter involvement this year.
“It has grown every single year. The Tennessee Wildlife Federation, affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation, is the model for us,” Carlin said. “They work great with us but also show how to be successful as a program. Tennessee donated over 100,000 pounds of venison last year. We have more room to grow. There is no reason why we couldn’t get there. We just have to get the word out.”
While deer is the primary meat sought by charities, gator, turkey, and fish are also accepted. People who may not be able to donate a deer can still donate money to the cause, Carlin said. Donations help cover the cost of processing the venison.
Harvest more deer
Velvet season is the first opportunity hunters will have to make a dent in the state deer population. According to the MDWFP, deer and habitat are best balanced in Mississippi when harvest rates are at 22 percent. Harvest rates are estimated to be around 14 percent in the last few years, which means more deer and fewer resources for each deer.
Deer Program Coordinator William McKinley said his recommendation to hunters is to harvest more deer and manage for the bad years. This year could be a tough test for both wildlife and habitat managers. Mississippi has had a hot and dry summer stress period. A drought could continue with little rain in the long-term forecast.
“On average, a hunter only kills 1.4 deer every year. With fewer deer being harvested, there are more deer left to reproduce year after year. As the deer population numbers increase, food resources are becoming more and more scarce,” MDWFP wrote in an article. “Additionally, the hard freeze experienced last winter killed off many of the acorns, which is a main food item for deer in Mississippi specifically. Nutrition plays a huge role in the size and health of deer. Poor nutrition leads to smaller antlers, thin does, and starving fawns. Hunters hold a unique role in preserving the balance of nature. By harvesting one more deer this season, you can help contribute to a healthier deer population.”
Mississippi’s current deer population is estimated to be around 1.5 million. Harvests last year were just a little over 200,000 deer. Hunters are encouraged to use their bag limit of five does and three bucks. Hunters Harvest could be a great way to help manage the resource and help the hungry people of the state. To learn more about Hunters Harvest charity visit mswildlife.org/huntersharvest.