Hunters Sharing the Harvest notes 30 years, needs more deer processors

Brian Whipkey Pennsylvania Outdoors Columnist

For three decades, Pennsylvania sportsmen have been donating venison to local food banks and pantries.

This year, Hunters Sharing the Harvest is observing its 30th anniversary, and officials are looking for more processors and sponsors.

Randy Ferguson, executive director of the Hunters Sharing the Harvest Program in Pennsylvania.

Randy Ferguson became the executive director earlier this year. The program started in 1991 by John Plowman, former executive director, and Ken Barndt as a way for hunters to provide healthy venison to food banks and pantries across the state. Over the three decades, the group has provided nearly 2 million pounds of venison to people across the commonwealth.

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With an increase in hunters last year, HSH set a record for venison. The organization was able to provide 190,302 pounds of meat from 4,896 deer. “That’s more than a million servings,” Ferguson said with a meal serving averaging 3 ounces. He said with the COVID concerns, people wanted to help others and donated their deer.

The meat is ground into hamburger and packaged into 1, 2 or 5 pounds bags for organizations to give to people in their communities.

The nonprofit organization partners with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Department of Agriculture, Feeding Pennsylvania and Hunger Free PA and a network of deer processors across the state.

Randy Ferguson, executive director of the Hunters Sharing the Harvest Program in Pennsylvania., helps sportsmen donate venison to food banks.

Adam Thomas, owner of Thomas Smoked Meats in northern Somerset County, said his operation has been processing deer for the program for about 15 years. “It’s been growing every year,” he said about hunter participation. He said they had a record year last season and estimates they processed about 1,800 pounds of venison for people in his neighborhood.

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The packages of meat are picked up by the St. Francis Sharing and Caring Food Pantry to help people in the community, “Which is nice. People are excited about getting venison.”

He likes that people who may no longer be able to physically go hunting are getting some venison through the program.

He said it’s also a nice no-cost option for sportsmen. “There are a lot of hunters who love their sport and do their part (to manage the deer herd).” He said the hunters don’t have to pay to donate their deer, but some do make a donation to help sustain the program.

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“It’s fantastic program," said. "I’m glad to see people are supporting it. People in the area are receiving the benefits of that.”

Hunters sharing the harvest works throughout the year organizing the effort and looking for funds to sustain the program.

HSH “figures out a way to get processors reimbursed for processing the deer,” Ferguson said during an interview with Professional Outdoors Writer Association members.

At one time, hunters needed to pay $15 per deer they donated to the program. For the last six years through grants, sponsorships and donations, hunters haven’t had to pay to donate their venison. The group promotes that a $25 donation can provide 100 meals.

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Right now their team is gearing up for this fall’s hunting season and coordinating efforts with more than 100 processors that have been inspected by the Department of Agriculture or the USDA.

“We’re looking for more processors,” he said as they want to make it as convenient as possible. They have shortages of processors in the northwestern part of the state as well as in Mifflin and Juniata counties in the more central part of the state.

The members are also looking for more volunteer coordinators to help keep the program going. Right now 56 of the 67 counties have coordinators. “We need more help to promote the mission,” he said about needing more sponsors, grants and general donations.

Plowman said the program brings out some of the best attributes of being a sportsman. By donating a deer through a butcher shop, “hunters are feeding people they will never meet.”

Visit to find out more information about local processors and how to be involved.

Brian Whipkey is the Pennsylvania Outdoors columnist for Gannett. Contact him at and sign up for our weekly Outdoors Newsletter email on your website's homepage.