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The meat beat: Getting ready for venison as deer season approaches

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About a half million hunters are preparing for venison as Minnesota's annual firearms deer season begins Saturday.

The Duluth News Tribune reports that the deer population in the Arrowhead is down from a few years ago, according to wildlife officials with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. This year's season will open about a week later than in the recent years, which puts hunters closer to the peak of deer-mating season. The later opener also brings the threat of wintry weather, which could decrease the harvest.

The Park Rapids Enterprise reports Gov. Mark Dayton will be in Fergus Falls for the the 11th Annual Minnesota Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener.

The DNR estimates the pursuit pumps nearly half a billion dollars to the state’s economy. WCCO visited a small business that gets in on the deer bucks--Thielen Meats in Little Falls, a fourth-generation processor that specializes in turning out sausage for hunters.

“This time of year we average about 1,500 pounds of sausage per week, including elk, bear and venison,” said John Thielen. “It will go up to 5,000 pounds a week during deer hunting, or just venison.”

The Minnesota DNR website has a list of meat-processing facilities around the state that have been approved by the state Agriculture Department to prepare meat for donations to local food shelves. For safety reasons, only entire carcasses with hide attached can be donated. Cut and wrapped meat will not be accepted.

The Associated Press reports venison donations to feed the hungry in North Dakota have declined with the deer population, but a program that allows hunters to donate goose meat has seen a huge increase.

Goose donations last year, during the pilot program, totaled 350. This fall's donations have nearly quadrupled, to 1,300. Sponsored by the group Sportsmen Against Hunger, about 20 North Dakota food pantries have received the donated meat.

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