Commentary: Game (meat) on

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Two events—one disappointing, the other disturbing—serve as a reminder that even though critics tend to focus on the (alleged) horrors of raising livestock, there is plenty of ire left over to direct at game animals, hunters and the complexities of our relationship with the mega-fauna with whom we share this continent.

First, to Georgia for the disturbing.

Two hunters who call the Peach State home, Daryl Bullock and Crawford McConnell, had lined up volunteers and butchering tools, ready to turn donated deer into food for needy families. What was missing, however, were the deer.

“I had 10 people ready to work [last] Saturday to butcher; we got all the equipment, but we don’t have people donating the deer anymore,” Bullock told the Augusta Chronicle. “Years ago, yes. Now we just don’t have that.”

According to the newspaper, Bullock and McConnell started the group Sportsmen Taking Aim Against Hunger in 2006, and began accepting deer donations from hunters and working with local meat processors to package the meat for charity. McConnell said they launched the group because of a need in the community and thought that hunters could help, since one pound of deer meat could feed six people when it’s made into burgers, chili and ground meat.

His suspect culinary calculations aside, the reality is that the group used to receive as many as 30 donated animals each hunting season. This year, though, McConnell said that’s dwindled to a single animal. Deer season closed last week in Georgia.

Why only one? Fewer deer sightings, and thus fewer animals available, is one reason. John Bowers, the assistant wildlife chief with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, noted that the state’s deer population has dropped from about 1.4 million in the late 1990s to only about million today, although he said the smaller deer herd is a more appropriate size.

The other reason cited was that more hunters are unable to cover the cost of processing a deer.

Whatever the reason, the result has been a serious drop in donations. Golden Harvest Food Bank in Augusta received 843 pounds of deer in 2012, compared with 2,069 pounds in 2010. David Iverson, the executive director of the Columbia County Cares food pantry just west of Augusta, said he didn’t receive a single deer donation this past season, compared with hundreds of pounds of packaged venison he’d received in the past. And the Georgia Hunters for the Hungry group said deer donations dropped from 25,228 pounds of venison in 2010 to 5,172 pounds in 2012.

Scotty Hall, the owner of Scotty’s Deer Barn in Swainsboro, Ga., may have hit on the truth. He said donations have dwindled because due to the cost of the sport, with more hunters wanting to keep the meat for their own families.

That there is the real cause of the drop in donations, and that is what’s so disturbing.

Elk won’t walk, but marchers will

Next, to Boulder, Colo., for the disappointing.

A vigil was held in that overgrown college town earlier this month in honor of an injured elk that was euthanized by an on-duty police officer.

Your read that right. According to Daily Camera online, a wild elk apparently hit by a vehicle was killed by a Colorado cop and then collected so he and his partner could have the meat was memorialized by Boulder residents who conducted a “silent walk” through downtown last week in tribute.

The march was the latest public display in memory of the animal, following a candlelight vigil held earlier this month, where people played an audio file of elk noises from their cellphones and held signs stating, “No hunting in our ’hood,” according to the newspaper. Meanwhile on a “Justice for the Mapleton Elk” Facebook page, organizers said they intend to pressure Colorado wildlife officials investigating the incident.

According to police reports, a Boulder police officer spotted an injured elk within the city limits late in the evening on New Year’s Day and determined that it needed to be euthanized. The officer killed the elk with a shotgun, then called a colleague, an off-duty police officer, to come and help pick up the carcass. The officer didn’t report the incident to his superiors.

Both officers were placed on paid leave while the criminal investigation is completed.

Look, I can understand public disapproval for a couple cops who violated procedure so they could score some elk meat. That’s just wrong.

But the outrage and overreaction, even from a liberal community like Boulder, is something else, as comments to the Daily Camera’s website revealed (naming the animal “Elk”).

From Kappy: “When the wild comes to your doorstep, it takes your breath away. To have had the experience of watching Elk dine on the ivy and strawberry plants in our front yards while we stood watching on our porches was grace itself. We could smell him! Who gets to smell an elk?” (Uh, did it ever occur to you that maybe we’re not supposed to be within smelling distance? That elk dining in our backyards isn’t “natural” and normal?)

From Karl: “Elk thrilled us and our hearts pounded. We laughed, did little dances and high-fived each other. It was a spiritual experience. Our lives changed because Elk walked with us.” (Somebody cue the folk group to break into “Rocky Mountain High . . .”)

From James: “I will let the good citizens of Boulder express outrage for this specific incident. I, too, support a full, transparent investigation, and civil and criminal liability for the officers involved to the fullest extent of applicable state and local laws.” (Wow. Usually this kind of rhetoric is reserved for serial killers and rapists—the bad guys—not the ones wearing the badges.)

While I empathize with people concerned about how this incident unfolded, it’s sad to see marches and vigils launched for an animal, when even affluent cities like Boulder have a raft of problems affecting its human population that never seem to stir similar passions.

That’s what’s so disappointing.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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