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Hunters for the Hungry supports those in need while controlling Virginia’s deer population

By John Commins

Photography by Sam Dean

Hunting holds a special place for Sherry Crumley, of Buchanan, Va. “I love being outside and listening to the sun rise and the animals wake up. It’s a very spiritual thing.” Crumley and her family and friends bag a lot of deer on her 380-acre spread, leaving them with much more venison than they can eat by themselves. Fortunately, that surplus of lean, protein-rich meat plays into another of Crumley’s special passions. She has been a board member of Hunters for the Hungry since its beginnings in 1991, and she and her family have donated more deer than she can recall to the volunteer, nonprofit organization. “Our granddaughter turned 15 last year and she killed her first doe and she said, ‘I want this to go to Hunters for the Hungry,’” Crumley says. “It warms my heart just knowing that we’re helping people.”

Based out of Big Island, Va., Hunters for the Hungry accepts venison from hunters at 80 sites across the state and pays butchers $45 a deer to process the meat, bag it into quarter-pound servings, and freeze it. The venison is donated it to food banks, church kitchens, and other charity organizations across the state. This past year, more than 8,000 hunters donated 277,000 pounds of venison, which Hunters for the Hungry processed into 1.1 million quarter-pound servings, says Laura Newell Furniss, the program’s long-serving director. “There’s a lot of hunger out there,” Furniss says. “If you’re a family that is just making it, you’re very thankful to have something like that.”

While the 2018 harvest was solid, the numbers are down from previous years. “Our best year was 400,000 pounds in 2010, Furness says. “I’d love to get back to that. Our program had grown every year through 2010 but more recently the number of hunters is declining. The hunters are getting older and the young people aren’t taking it up.” The declining number of hunters is proving to be a tremendous obstacle. A recent survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that only 5 percent of Americans hunt. That’s about half of what it was 50 years ago, and there is no indication that those numbers will improve going forward.

To better manage the deer population, the state of Virginia allows larger bag limits for hunters, with longer deer seasons of varying length for urban archery, archery, black powder, and rifle that run from September through March. That’s helped somewhat, and it means that hunters such as Sherry and Jim Crumley can harvest about five or six deer between them during the various seasons, with much of the meat going to Hunters for the Hungry. But those efforts may not be enough. Sherry Crumley believes that a potential new source for hunters could come from the locavore movement; people searching for high-quality, healthy, organic meat. “These folks want good, healthy food,” she says, “and there isn’t anything healthier than wild game.” ★ 

John Commins is a Florida writer.