Elks find good use for deer hides
By ANDREW MCGINN
This time of year, signs pop up tempting hunters with an offer — trade your deer hides for knives and gloves.
Nationally, and here in Jefferson, Elks lodges would prefer to get those hides.
“The people that are donating hides to us say, ‘Hey, these disabled veterans are worth more to me than an $8 knife or a pair of gloves,’ ” said Les Fister, who heads up the Jefferson lodge’s annual effort to collect deer hides for use by disabled and elderly veterans in crafts.
Since 1948, the Elks have been a major source of tanned leather used by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for recreational and occupational therapy in its health system.
The Jefferson Elks lodge has been participating for about 15 years.
“If more people knew what exactly we did with them,” Fister said, “I’m sure it would help the cause.”
Iowa’s 2013 shotgun season came to a close on Dec. 22.
As of Monday, Greene County hunters reported harvesting 370 deer to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
This year marked the 60th anniversary of the state’s first modern deer season, which began in December 1953.
Prior to that, deer were actually scarce in Iowa, which sounds hard to believe in an era when it’s become a harrowing experience just to drive anywhere after dusk between November and January.
But, by 1898, deer had virtually been eliminated from all of Iowa.
In 1936, there were only an estimated 500 to 700 deer in the state.
As of Monday, the DNR reported that 84,187 deer had been harvested this year statewide.
Locally, though, the Elks had been donated just 70 hides going into the second shotgun season’s final weekend.
Last year, local Elks collected about 150 total hides.
“The deer harvest isn’t what it was four years ago,” said Jerry Roberts, a Jefferson Elk. “Four years ago, we had 290-some hides.”
“I think more of them are being collected by cars,” he joked.
Before being sent to a tannery in Missouri at the organization’s expense, Fister and other local Elks keep the hides as fresh as possible by rubbing them down with salt donated by West Central and rolling them tightly.
And, have hide, will travel.
“I’m not going to let them go to waste,” Fister said. “I’ll go get ‘em. It’s all for the veterans.”
Iowa’s Elks have been No. 1 in the nation for eight of the past 10 years in the number of hides collected, according to Dennis McAleese, national chairman of the Elks’ veterans leather program.
Last year, 18,287 hides were collected between 19 participating states, he said.
“We get a lot of them and we appreciate it,” said Connie Etter, activities specialist at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown.
Residents at the state-run veterans facility keep their minds busy by making everything from gun cases to moccasins with the donated leather.
“It’s more of a manly thing to work with leather,” Etter confessed.
Residents then are able to sell their wares in the facility’s gift shop.
“It’s a real asset to our program,” Etter said.
There is, however, a burgeoning field of competitors for the hides, like the individuals who offer to trade knives and gloves for them.
Dubuque-based Theisen’s, a chain of farm supply stores with a location in Ames, gives hunters a $6 in-store credit for deer hides.
To donate a deer hide, call the Jefferson Elks lodge after 4 p.m. at 515-386-2106.