LOUISBURG — Hunters tend to size up a buck by the potential score of the antlers. Jeff Pearce calculates the number of servings.
“The average deer produces roughly 40 pounds of meat, 160 meals,” Pearce said, ignoring an eight-point rack as he eyeballed a 132-pound whitetail delivered to Pearce’s Franklin County meat processing plant on Perdues Road off N.C. 561. “That’s a bigger-than-average deer.”
Every serving, every donated deer adds up for a cause. Pearce is the tireless, 14-hour-a-day driving force behind N.C. Hunters for the Hungry. The nonprofit organization hires meat processors to turn deer donated by hunters into ground venison that is distributed to organizations that feed people in need.
Pearce, the processor coordinator, lives venison from the start of bow season in September until deer season ends Jan. 1 and last of the meat is cut, ground and distributed a couple of weeks later. He sells raffle tickets to help raise funds. He keeps careful tabulations.
At some point, perhaps “next year if we have the funds and I can get deer in here,” he said, “Pearce’s Custom Processing’s 2 millionth serving of donated venison will roll out of the freezer to go to a church, soup kitchen or food pantry, including the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle in Raleigh. A North Carolina-shaped plaque in his crowded office commemorates the 1 millionth serving, produced in 2005, all at Pearce’s.
Except for the rare grant, funds are privately raised. Visitors to the Dixie Deer Classic hunting show at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh each March often will find Pearce fundraising.
“As far as the hunters, I think the program’s the best program ever to exist,” Pearce said, listing the contributions of thinning the deer herd, helping hunters avoid wasting meat, and saving the government money by privately supplying the hungry with protein, “the hardest commodity for people to get to eat.”
With a deer population at about 1.35 million, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the state has a lot of protein in the woods. Statewide, hunters killed more than 173,000 deer last season.
On Nov. 10, opening day of central gun season, donors included John Green, 48, a lawyer from Raleigh who brought in a big Vance County eight-pointer. “I get some processed for me, but I have donated 25 to 30 deer over the years,” he said.
Carl Huggins of Norlina arrived with a 75-pound doe. His freezer was full. He pointed out that N.C. hunters are allowed six deer and can obtain additional antlerless deer tags. “I fill my tags. It shouldn’t be a problem filling them,” he said.
Pearce and 13 other licensed processors will continue handling donated meat for as long as they can pay employees. Processors receive just $40 to $50 per deer. Even though people might not be hunters, Pearce said, they have to agree that feeding the hungry a nutritious meat is a good idea.
“The more money we could get in the program,” he said, “the bigger we could make the program.”