Some hunters harvest game to get a trophy mount for their wall; others plan to fill their freezers with meat, and some want a little meat but not a whole deer. Whatever the hunting motivation, there’s no reason for food to go to waste when there are hungry people nearby.
Since archery season opened for deer in mid-September, Chris and Stephany Mohler have processed 60-some deer at their business, Wildlife Taxidermy and Wild Game Processing, in Sawyer. In October, they donated more than 200 pounds of frozen ground deer to Pratt County FoodBank, Inc.
Food bank director Diana Harris said she can only accept game from a processing plant, not from an individual. Most people who visit the food bank are happy to get the deer, although some tell her their kids won’t eat it. She recommends using it for chili or mixing it with hamburger.
There are a variety of reasons hunters don’t keep the deer they killed.
A bow hunter from Virginia makes an annual trip to Barber County. He loves the Gyp Hills, enjoys the solitude of a tree stand and is recognized by sight if not by name when he worships with a small congregation of Presbyterians and Episcopalians in Medicine Lodge. If he’s successful in his hunt, he will bring the deer to the Mohlers to have it processed. He’ll ship home some of the choice cuts, but shipping a whole deer would be expensive — he could buy some nice filet mignons for the price, he said. He will pay the processing, and whatever is ground into hamburger will go to the food bank.
Deer population in the state is large enough that a hunter can obtain up to five permits for antlerless whitetail deer, far more than most families can consume by next season.
Mohler’s customers have to pay the processing, but a nonprofit organization, Kansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry, collects donations to encourage hunters to donate unwanted meat. With the help of hunters and meat processors, KSHFH donated 997 deer and 17 elk to nearly 40 meat lockers, putting food on the tables of nearly 100 food banks across the state last year, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
Wildlife cannot be sold in Kansas. Hunters are invited to donate legally harvested deer, antelope, elk or moose to any of more than 40 participating meat processors in the state.
Information about the program and a list of processors is at www.kshfh.org.
Mohler believes the local deer population may be recovering a bit from a two-year drought. Hunters tell him they’re seeing an increase.
Gary Blankenship, from western Kentucky, who is part of a group of 10 to 12 hunters who come regularly to the Sawyer area, visited the taxidermy shop Tuesday to look at deer mounts. Although they’re hunting birds, they have seen quite a few deer. Predictions for pheasant and quail hunting have been dismal this year, because of dry conditions and poor hatches, but his group had put nine birds in the refrigerator already, compared to eight for the whole week last year.
“This morning, we saw five or six and killed two,” he said. “We need to tune up our shooting a little bit.”
They’re seeing more hen pheasants, which are not legal to shoot, but a good sign for hunting in the future. He figures for every seven hens, there is a rooster somewhere.
“The numbers are there for the quail,” Blankenship said, noting a covey of at least 40 birds on a recent morning.
He also saw a large group of turkeys near the Barber County line. Mohler advised him to come back in January to see flocks of 100 or more.
Hunting is more than just killing birds or animals.
“It’s the camaraderie,” Blankenship said. “As long as you see birds you’re happy, enjoying Mother Nature.”
The Mohlers are “trying to keep their head above water” with as many as six deer coming in during a day. In the first few days of gun season that begins Dec. 4, they’ll take in up to15 or 20 in a day. They will hire extra help then, but for the most part, the business is a Mom and Pop operation, with Chris skinning and quartering deer and “caping out” the mounts. They will both grind meat, and Stephany makes the specialty sausages.
The taxidermy and processing segments of the business complement each other well, Chris said. Neither would be quite as sweet without the other.