'Twas the night before deer opener, and all through the shack, hunters were dreaming of bucks with big racks...
Believe it or not, it is that time of year again as North Dakota's most famous unofficial holiday is nearly upon us: the firearm deer opener kicks off at noon on Friday, Nov. 6, and culminates a half hour after sunset Nov. 22.
Some hunters hit the dusty trail in hopes of bagging a wall-hanger, but most will simply be out for the camaraderie, the tradition and, most importantly, to fill the freezer.
Venison is a true delicacy when properly handled and prepared and is an ideal source of protein free from chemicals or steroids.
In that respect, there are many individuals, families and organizations who desperately need venison and eagerly await donated deer.
Last season, a lead-in-venison scare prompted many food shelves to ban venison from deer shot by firearms. However, results from a study conducted in May 2008 by the North Dakota Department of Health have somewhat reversed that trend.
"(The venison ban) was really frustrating," said Ann Pollert, Executive Director of the North Dakota Community Action Partnership. "But with the momentum and PR that brought, now everyone knows about the program."
"The program" Pollert is speaking of is Sportsmen Against Hunger, a venison donation program put on by NDCAP. Last year, because the program only was allowed to accept bow-killed deer, and because the overall deer harvest was lower due to a remainder of standing crops like corn and sunflowers, Sportsmen Against Hunger collected a mere 64 animals. This is compared to 381 the year before and 369 in 2006.
"Really, the food pantries are excited to come back," Pollert said. "We all took the lead issue very seriously and we're happy with how the North Dakota Department of Health handled the issue."
Though the Department of Health has reversed its recommendation of not accepting rifle-killed deer, some new policies have been put in place. Deer must be properly field dressed, be appropriately tagged by the hunter, and cannot be shot in the hind quarters. Pollert said it will be up to handlers at donation drop sites to decide whether a deer is accepted. According to the Department of Health, women who are pregnant and children under the age of 6 are advised not to eat venison from deer killed by firearms.
Pollert has a lofty donation goal for hunters this year: "Over 700 deer for the state," she said. Of those, she expects 120 will come from the Fargo area and surrounding region. That large number is possible because of donations and carry-over funding unused from last year's budget.
"New clubs keep coming on board that want to participate," she said. "People really cheered for the program. We also have at least four or five new processors this year."
For more information about NDCAP and a full list of processors participating in Sportsmen Against Hunger, visit www.ndacp.org.
Remember our troops
Although there are many families in the United States hoping for venison donations, the public can't forget the men and women on the front lines fighting to defend our freedom.
Mark Wagemann, of Fargo VFW Post 762, is in his fourth year of running Jerky Worth Fighting For, a venison donation program that turns venison into jerky and then sends it to U.S. troops who currently are deployed.
"I read in 'Outdoor Life' one time that this guy made jerky and sent it to his son deployed overseas," Wagemann said. "It was a big hit. Pretty soon his neighbor wanted to help and it just grew and grew. I thought, 'what the heck, we can do that here.'"
Wagemann said the community support for Jerky Worth Fighting For has been strong. During the first year he had hoped to get just 30 deer.
"We got 90," he said. The next year followed the same trend as he shot for 100 deer and received 190. Last year dropped to 45, however, "due to the lead scare and hard hunting," Wagemann said.
Wagemann said Jerky Worth Fighting For is more than willing to send jerky to individual troops. "If I get an address I try to make a point to send some jerky," he said.
Though he is gracious for any deer donations, Wagemann said he still needs money to help fund the project.
"I still have to mail this stuff overseas," he said, "and what I can't afford to mail I'll try working something out with the airforce."
If you are interested in Jerky Worth Fighting For or have further questions, contact Wagemann at 701-306-8969 or email@example.com.
Support for local wildlife club
Another local organization that impacts the Fargo area is the Cass County Wildlife Club.
Based out of Casselton, N.D., the wildlife organization has recently been working to create handicap accessible blinds at the Alice Waterfowl Production Area, located just outside of Alice, N.D. The club also conducts firearms safety courses and youth trap shoots.
Lorne Sterne, vice president of the Cass County Wildlife Club, said they recently helped sponsor Twist of Fate, which helped people with disabilities bow hunt for deer.
Membership is $20 a year and the club meets the third Wednesday of every month. The club is looking for donations of venison to serve for its annual fund raiser, which will be held Jan. 23 at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds. The organization also donates some of the venison it receives to local food shelves.
The Cass County Wildlife Club runs a year-round rifle range in Casselton that is free and open to the public; perfect for hunters who might need to make sure their rifles are on target before opener.
For more information on the Cass County Wildlife Club, visit www.casscountywildlife.org or call 701-347-4716.
Where to go?
So you've shot some deer and decide to make a donation to any of the local causes in need of venison. Where do you go? The closest processor taking donations is Casselton Cold Storage located in Casselton, N.D.
Open for around 60 years, Michelle Halverson and her husband, Craig, have owned and operated the business for the last nine of those. They will be taking a total of 75 donated deer, of which 20 will go to Jerky Worth Fighting For, 20 will go to the Cass County Wildlife Club and 35 will go to Sportsmen Against Hunger.
Halverson said there is no need to call ahead, though it may be a good idea later in the season if they are nearing their quota. During the hunting season, store hours are 8 a.m to 7 p.m Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday. For questions call 701-347-4781 or visit www.casseltonmeats.com.
Another relatively close processor taking donations is Maple Valley Meats located in Enderlin, N.D. They will be taking approximately 50 deer, with the possibility of 60 or more when final funding is tallied. Only whole-carcass, hide-on deer will be accepted. A large amount of funding came from the Enderlin-Sheldon Wildlife Club, which is paying for approximately 35 animals.
Maple Valley Meats will have extended hours during opening weekend and throughout the season. For questions, store hours or additional information, customers can call 701-437-3311 or visit www.maplevalleymeats.com.
According to the Game and Fish Department, the whitetail deer population in North Dakota is at or near record highs in many parts of the state. Though a harsh winter caused a slight drop in deer numbers and deer tags, hunters should still have ample opportunity to bag one or more deer. In fact, there currently are nearly 15,000 antlerless tags still available for zones throughout North Dakota.
If finding a place to shoot a deer has become too hard in your area, visit the North Dakota Game and Fish department Web site at gf.nd.gov. The department has a list of state landowners who are anxiously looking for hunters willing to harvest antlerless deer off their property.
With tags costing just $20 apiece and ample places to hunt, now is as good a year as any to get out and harvest deer for yourself or, better yet, donate one to help those in need.