Hides Make Happy Campers

When deer hunting season begins each fall the Wisconsin Lions send out their message: We want your hide.

The sale of deer hides is helping Lions send kids to summer camp.

Through the bulk sale of hides donated by Wisconsin archery and gun sportsmen, Lions have raised more than US$1 million to support the 440-acre Wisconsin Lions Camp for kids with disabilities.

The camp, with a 40-acre private lake, nine cabins, and a lodge was started in Rosholt, Wisconsin, 63 years ago when Lion Ray Hempel heard a blind girl say, “Blind kids can’t go to camp,” recalls Past District Governor Bernie Stuttgen.

Stuttgen is a 52-year Thorp Wisconsin Lion who started the deer hide collection 30 years ago to financially support the camp.

Now Wisconsin Lions Camp entertains about 1,300 campers a year for free with boating, swimming, crafts, a climbing wall, zip line, staffed nurse’s station and more. The 12-week camping season includes designated weeks for children with sight or hearing impairment, the deaf or hard of hearing, those with intellectual disabilities or educational autism, and those with diabetes. There is also a week for blind or visually impaired adults, and a week for adults who are deaf or hearing impaired.

The camp operating budget of about US$1 million a year is supported by individual and club donations—and the deer hide collection.

Stuttgen says the Thorp Lions collected 58 deer hides the first year of their efforts, netting them US$399 for camp. Soon hunters realized that although a hide might get them a few dollars (generally US$4 to $13), the profit will grow in value and multiply when the hides are sold in bulk. The collection of hides branched out to become a zone project and eventually grew statewide.

Now about one-third of the state’s clubs are involved, and Stuttgen hopes to see the number increase every year.

“Not in my wildest dreams did I think this would grow to more than three or four clubs involved,” he says. In 2017, 10,667 hides were collected statewide, raising more than US$87,000 for the Wisconsin Lions Camp for kids.