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Several hunters from Southern Maryland participated in the Doe Harvest Challenge this year to help reduce the state’s overpopulation of white-tailed deer and simultaneously helped reduce crop damage and support the less fortunate in the community.

The goal of challenge, which took place in Southern Maryland and on the Mid-Shore, was to reduce local overpopulations of deer by spurring the legal harvest and donation of does within participating counties, according to a Maryland Farm Bureau press release. The challenge began on the opening day of bow season.

Kurt Fuchs, challenge director, said the program has benefits that are twofold.

“One, it helps to reduce agricultural crop damage by incentivizing the harvest of deer and it also increases the amount of food going to local food banks,” Fuchs said.

This is the third year the challenge has taken place, Fuchs said, and there was a slight increase in participation even though deer harvesting was down statewide.

“We’re pleased that we were able to still increase donations despite that,” he said.

Maryland Farm Bureau and the Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry (FHFH) sponsored the challenge, and funding was provided by the Maryland Grain Producers and the Maryland Soybean Board.

Jay Norris, Calvert County resident and a FHFH coordinator, said funding from those organizations allowed the FHFH to allocate additional funding to co-sponsor the challenge and to distribute more meals to food pantries throughout the county. Norris said the FHFH paid for the processing of venison that’s donated, which goes to the food banks to feed those in need.

“I think the bottom line is, our sole mission is to provide meals for the hungry, and this partnership with the [Maryland Farm Bureau] and the Maryland Soy Bean Board has allowed us to increase the number of meals we provide on a yearly basis … locally in Southern Maryland,” Norris said.

Norris said the funding allowed 70 additional white tail deer to be allocated to each processor in the tri-county region, which equaled about 400 additional white tail deer compared last year. He said one deer will feed roughly 200 people.

Another incentive for hunters to participate, Norris said, is that each time a hunter donated a legally harvested doe to a participating FHFH processor, they were eligible to enter a drawing for a prize package valued at $500. Norris said the prize drawing entries were collected every few weeks.

According to the press release, grand prize winners receiving prize packages valued at $1,000 were drawn in each region from entries collected throughout all five contest cycles. With each region holding five contest cycle drawings and a grand prize package valued at $1,000, participating hunters had a total of 12 opportunities to win more than $7,000 in prizes simply by donating their harvested does.

Contest winners from the Southern Maryland region were Charlie Richardson of La Plata, Steve Richards of Brandywine, Bradley Rouser of La Plata, George Diggle of Hollywood and Michael Owens of Mechanicsville. Kevin Gunther of Stevensville was the grand prize winner.

Hunters in the participating regions were able to donate 1,660 deer to local FHFH processors over the course of the hunting season, a 5 percent increase in donations in the region over 2010 numbers despite a decrease in the overall statewide harvest, according to the press release. These donations represent nearly 332,000 meals of high-quality, lean protein for the less fortunate in their local communities and a reduction in economic losses to farm families.

kfitzpatrick@somdnews.com