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Deer donations drop 40 percent

State officials say deer hunters gave about 40 percent fewer animals last fall to a statewide program which gives venison to the needy.

The latest figures from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources show that 5,300 animals were donated in the gun and archery seasons.

Program coordinator Laurie Fike said the final numbers are still being tabulated.

But the preliminary total is not even half of the record donations of around 12,000 deer in 2006.

Since the program began in 2000, more than 3 million pounds of donated venison has been given to about 700 Wisconsin food pantries.

Bruce Bushweiler, who runs the effort in Waupaca County, said hunters there gave 20 percent fewer animals. And the meat that did come in was claimed a lot faster.

That's no surprise, given the recession and the higher unemployment.

Last year, Bushweiler said his group was still distributing venison in April and May. But this time, it's already long gone.

Bushweiler figures that hunters were not doing as well either, so more kept their animals to eat. Also, they didn't shoot as many deer.

Current figures put last fall's gun and archery harvest at 447,000, down from 518,000 the year before.