The Thief River Falls Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association collected and prepped a record number of deer hides during its 2018 Hides for Habitat campaign.

Money from the sale of the hides helps fund chapter initiatives such as food plot seed donations and youth outdoor education.

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The chapter collected and processed 3,327 deer hides, an effort that includes salting the hides and stacking them into bundles for shipment, said Ben Meyer, president of the Thief River Falls MDHA chapter.

"We may have had some better years in (2005 and 2006) back when license numbers were higher and hunters could shoot five deer in a lot of zones, but I'm not sure we recorded as well back then," Meyer said. "This is our highest recorded number."

Thief River Falls has become a flagship chapter in the popular MDHA program, regularly leading the state in the number of hides collected. Chapter volunteers collect hides from 30 drop sites across northwest Minnesota, ranging from East Grand Forks to the Lake of the Woods area, Meyer said.

Falls Radiator in Thief River Falls donates space to work on the hides, and an average of 15 chapter members gather Wednesday nights throughout the campaign to work on the hides, Meyer said. This year's campaign began Nov. 7 and the chapter shipped its hides to a Wisconsin fur buyer on Dec. 15, he said.

Needless to say, the work is far from glamorous.

"We try to make as much fun out of it as we can," Meyer said. "We cook really good meals for everybody that comes and works, just some fabulous (food), made by guys' wives or guys themselves that bring in their specialty to make sure everybody eats well and enjoys it."

MDHA almost shelved the Hides for Habitat program in October after learning that China, which tanned hides in the past, no longer was allowing hides to be tanned in the country. That didn't leave enough time for tanneries to react and create new facilities in other nearby countries.

Despite plummeting prices, MDHA reached an 11th-hour agreement with a Wisconsin company, North American Trading, to buy hides at a price that was high enough to justify continuing the program.

The Thief River Falls chapter sold its hides for $4.50 a hide, the lowest it's ever gotten, Meyer said.

"There was a lot of sentiment throughout the entire state to not let this program go," Meyer said. "The price was a bigger challenge this year than ever before. We were going in with low expectations, and the high quantity helped to even that out some."

Because of the lower prices, Meyer says the chapter still is deciding how to administer its popular food plot seed program for the coming planting season.

"Obviously, we didn't make as much money to put into the program so we have to work out the details yet," he said. "It will be more challenging than in the past, but we do plan on continuing the food plot seed distribution.

"It may be slightly different."

The final tallies aren't yet in, but Meyer says he expects the Thief River Falls chapter to again lead the state in the number of hides collected. He attributes the ongoing success both to the community and the dedication of chapter members.

"I can't even recall how many years we've been No. 1 in hide collection," Meyer said. "Giving back to the community has really grown the community's involvement in donating the hides. That's one part of it; the second part is the guys that come and do all the work, the making it fun and making it enjoyable."