GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - With the 2017 gun deer season now in the books, food pantries around the state are welcoming the generosity of hunters.
Since 2000, the DNR reports Wisconsin deer hunters have donated more than 90,000 deer, which have been processed into 3.6 million pounds of ground venison.
The birthplace of the deer donation program, however, is having a hard time supplying low-income families with the venison it used to provide.
When Paul's Pantry in Green Bay launched Hunt For The Hungry in 1994, hunters responded in a big way. Within a few years, the pantry received more than 1,000 donated deer each fall.
The ground venison was a hit.
"It's higher in protein, lower in fat, it's more nutritious and people love it, we did an informal study just here, a small poll, and we found that 75-percent of our households that are registered here want the venison," says Craig Robbins, Paul's Pantry executive director.
By the year 2000, word spread of the pantry's success in providing venison.
"The state of Wisconsin modeled the deer donation program on Hunt For The Hungry," says Robbins.
Promoted throughout Wisconsin, the state's deer donation program offers a few simple guidelines to make sure the venison reaches every county.
"If they drop it off at a processor in that county, it stays in that county," explains Robbins.
A few years ago, that became a problem for Paul's Pantry.
"Brown County for instance only has one processor left. There's not a lot of deer processors left out there that will do this. Those deer are going to other counties now," says Robbins.
While hunters still drop off some deer at the pantry, which it gladly accepts and transports to a processor, it's nowhere like it used to be.
The venison the pantry provides has dropped dramatically -- from more than 5,000 pounds a few years ago to less than 2,000 pounds last year.
Robbins points to two boxes of ground venison that will be saved for Christmas distribution. He hopes hunters taking aim during the remaining deer hunting opportunities will remember Paul's Pantry.
"Bring your deer back to your home county so that you're helping your own neighbors," says Robbins.