Feeding the Hungry is No Game

Story by Jeannie Stone

Mike Wilson of Ferguson Packing Company and Gordon Miller of Arkansas Quality Processing are helping to stamp out hunger by participating in the Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry campaign which, to date, has fed one million meals to residents in need since the organization began in 2000. Local hunters donate deer and other wild game to the meat processors who, in turn, provide the cuts of meat for local food pantries.

Atkins business owner Wilson has participated in the program for the last five years. He estimates there have been 100 donors who have provided out of their excess or who have shared a portion of their bounty.

“I used to hunt, but I don’t have time anymore,” he said. “I’m too busy fixing what other people bring in.”

Wilson is proud to participate in the program: “It makes sense to do this. So much of what hunters bag is more than they need.”

Manna From Heaven in Morrilton and Main Street Mission in Russellville are two food relief agencies approved to retrieve the processed meat.

“In fact, Main Street Mission cooks up deer chili for the folks over there,” he said.

Wilson estimates he’s processed a couple thousand deer and elk in his 14 years in the business, so there’s definitely a great supply.

“It’s not just about deer,” he said, admitting he preferred deer, quail, rabbit and squirrel. “Any game hunters bring down can be donated.” There are things to consider, however.

“The sooner you can get the innards out, and a bag of ice into the chest cavity after you gut it, the better,” he said. “And, please, don’t pick up road- kill unless you’re the one doing the hitting.”

Miller of Arkansas Quality Processing in Centerville, his wife Dianna and son James are in their 10th year in business. They pride themselves on the laborious methods they undertake in their processing.

“We muscle deer out,” Miller said. “The (deer) meat is never cut by saw; it’s all done by hand and run through the tenderizer. It’s the Cadillac cut.”

Admittedly, it’s more time consuming but Miller is convinced the extra attention to detail eliminates much of the wild taste of the venison.

“We rotate our deer when they come in, and there’s a lot of mornings we have to move 200 deer to keep them fresh before we ever start cutting,” he said. “It’s a hard business because you do it all at once.”

During the hunting season the shop processes four deer in the morning and ten at night.

“That’s seven days a week for three and a half months,” Miller said. “When the last deer is processed we take off for two weeks.”

“A lot of good that did us last year, we spent the two weeks sick in bed,” Dianna said.

The sport of hunting has changed a lot in recent years, she said.

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of younger hunters and especially girls hunting with their dads. The youth hunt weekends are very big for us.” One girl killed her first deer with a bow. “She was so proud,” Miller said. “I couldn’t get the work order because she was calling so many people on her cell phone.”

Bow hunting is all the rage now. “Dr. Bruce Brown usually kills a bear each year,” Miller said. “Last year he got a 500-plus pound bear. It was really big, and he does that all with a bow.”

The store processes “in the neighborhood of 25 to 30 bear a year,” he said.

“A lot of the guys will keep the fat to waterproof their boots like the old-timers did.” Planning the “big hunt,” stalking the prey and bagging the game are giddy experiences for the hunters. They are providing lean and nutritious meals for those who are hungry — bearing witness to the providence of our forefathers who roamed these same woods so that there would be food in the bellies of their children during the long winter months.

 

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