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A helping hand for Hides for Habitat

Hides for Habitat might be the most successful and valuable program operated by the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.

Launched in 1985, the non-profit program has collected 700,000 deer, moose and elk hides, resulting in more than $3 million in habitat acquisition. Hides are worth $3.50 or $8.50, depending on condition, and tails get 25 cents.

With such profits available, it's no surprise that competition for hides has emerged in recent years. Collection boxes set out by for-profit individuals have been placed near Hide for Habitat boxes. The for-profit boxes are painted to look like HFH boxes, leading unwitting hunters to place their hides in the wrong box. The misplaced hides are sold by private collectors, with the net result being money lost for habitat acquisition and youth education.

Casey Stengel of Brainerd, a chapter member of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, placed a Hides for Habitat box in front of the Triangle Store in Baxter on Monday. The boxes have the official MDHA logo to set them apart from the boxes of private collectors, who are selling the hides for profit.

Said Mark Johnson, president of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association: "People should know that the donation they make, when it's matched by our funds, has tripled the value of that hide by the time it's used for habitat. That's why we want to make sure the hides get in the right boxes and stay there."

The Brainerd chapter of the MDHA is making sure that hides donated by local hunters get placed in the right boxes by posting blaze-orange posters bearing the official MDHA logo (see photo) on collection boxes.

"We're not giving in to the competition," said Casey Stengel, a chapter member who, along with fellow club members Jim Gau and Peter Lodermeier, will set out boxes this week. "The boxes with the new blaze-orange posters are the ones to look for. We'll have 22 boxes from Pillager to Crosby, Hillman to Brainerd International Raceway."

Last year, the Brainerd chapter donated 1,433 hides, placing it in the top 30 percent in collections statewide. The Bluewater chapter in Pequot Lakes donated 1,382. The leading chapters for hide donations are in Thief River Falls (3,000), Sturgeon River (2,773) and Grand Rapids (2,300).

Each hide requires 3 pounds of salt to be preserved. The Brainerd chapter will use 8,000 pounds of salt this year.

Preserved hides are sold to North American Fly in Strum, Wis., which sells to clothing manufacturers in China. The hides are used to make gloves and handbags.

The finished products are shipped back to the Unites States and sold in Cabela's, Bass Pro Shops, Fleet Farm and other stores.

"If you buy a pair of buckskin gloves in the Midwest, they probably were made from Minnesota or Wisconsin deer hides," Johnson said.

Johnson said Minnesota hunters will donate 50,000 to 60,000 hides this fall. Eighty-five percent of the profits from donations stay with the local chapter and 25 percent go to the MDHA's state habitat committee.

"We're looking at an all-time record (for hide donations)," Johnson said. "With the cooler weather we've had this fall, the hides should be in really good shape."

To keep them that way, hunters are asked to carefully skin their deer. Nicks from knives decrease a hide's value. Archers who shoot a deer before collection boxes are available should preserve the hide in a freezer. Hunters who donate hides receive a pair of gloves.

VINCE MEYER can be reached at vince.meyer@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5862.

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