The Missouri deer season will soon be here. The archery season opens Sept. 15 and the firearms season soon follows on Oct. 28.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri hunters harvested 263,834 deer during the 2016 deer season. As these figures show, Missouri has a good population of deer along with successful and skilled hunters.  

Missouri hunters are also very generous and helpful to their fellow Missourians. A prime example of their generosity is their participation in the well-known program called Share the Harvest, which is administered by the Conservation Federation of Missouri and the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Last year 4,280 hunters donated 198,277 pounds of venison to the Share the Harvest program. This is a great cause and it helps a lot of people.

There also is another great cause that relies on the generosity of the Missouri hunters. That program is called the Veterans Leather program.

It is sponsored by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, or more simply the Elks Lodges throughout the United States. This program relies on the generosity of hunters across the nation to donate hides so they can be turned into leather goods used for therapy programs for recovering veterans.

The leather program provides professionally-crafted gloves for veterans in wheelchairs. The gloves are distributed at veteran’s adaptive sports clinics, veteran’s homes and gatherings throughout the country.

Each year, thousands of Elks Lodge members step up to help out with this program, offering their time, energy and skills to serve our veterans. Their gifts help to create thousands of gloves and therapy kits provided to veterans at no charge.

The Elks Lodge’s deerskin program began in 1948 in California, and today Elks Lodges in 17 states, including many Elks Lodges in Missouri, participate in the program.

Last year more than 17,000 hides were donated nationwide with the Missouri Elks Lodges and hunters contributing over 5,700 hides alone. Missouri has been continually one of the top producers in the country for the deer hide program.

There are several reasons why deer hide is used in making gloves for veterans. Cow leather is not as supple as tanned deer skin. Deer hide will last longer than cowhide and it is a lot softer on the veteran’s hands.

This softness will conform to the veteran’s hands and protect the hands from callous. The raw product, which is the deer hide, is donated to the Elks Lodges which makes fabrication of the special gloves more economical.

It takes approximately three square feet of good deer leather to make one pair of deerskin gloves. Last year the Elks Lodges distributed 2,843 pairs of gloves to veterans nationwide and many of those went to Missouri veterans.

Deer leather scrap pieces are also put to good use. These pieces are used to make leather-working craft kits for disabled or hospitalized soldiers to help take their minds off their injuries and improve manual dexterity.

After the participating Elks Lodges receive the hides, they are shipped to Tennessee for the tanning process.  The next step is fabrication of the gloves, which takes place at a facility in Washington State.

If Missouri hunters would like to donate deer hides to this worthwhile program, it is recommended that they first call their local Elks Lodge to make sure it is participating in this program.

Go to Elks.org, type in a zip code and it will bring up the nearest lodge’s address and phone number. Many of the lodges will accept hides in different forms, which is another reason why it’s best to call the local Elks Lodge first to find out how they would like the deer hides prepared.

If you are not planning on tanning your deer hide and making a pair of moccasins or a fringe leather deer shirt for yourself, I encourage you to call your local Elks Lodge and donate your deer hide.

This small gift will benefit many veterans who gave so much to protect or freedom.

I would like to thank Nicholas Mueller, who is a member of the Elks Lodge in Washington, Mo., for his contribution of information about the the Veterans Leather program.

(Bill Wakefield is regional director of the Traveler’s St. Louis office and can be reached at w3@charter.net.)