Last year, over the course of the entire hunting season five deer were donated to the venison donation program. This year, the program’s second, that number was reached in the first few weeks of the bow hunting season, which started on Oct. 1.

This year the program is coordinated by Island Grown Initiative, the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, the Island Food Pantry and the Larder, a retail store in Vineyard Haven that focuses on Island grown meat and vegetables. It encourages hunters to take extra deer during the season, beyond the deer they might use for their own consumption. While there is a limit on male deer, hunters on the Vineyard are allowed to take as many female deer as they want, after buying the proper permits at a minimal cost.

A secondary goal is to reduce the Island’s deer herd, which could in turn reduce the incidence of tick-borne illnesses on the Island.

The harvested deer are stored in a large walk-in cooler at the Island Grown Initiative facilities off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven road. Hunters can take advantage of the storage facility for a $50 fee, even if they don’t want to donate venison. If they decide to donate at least one deer to the program, the fee is refunded in full.

“A majority of people are more interested in donating than storing their deer,” said Marc Macfarlane, a member of the Agriculture Society who helps facilitate cooler storage. “It’s nice to have that option.”

Once a deer is donated, it is stored until it can be processed at the Larder, frozen, and sent to the Island Food Pantry, where it will be distributed this winter to Island families.

Island Food Pantry director Margaret Hannemann said last year, when the donation program was operated on an experimental basis, the food pantry received more than 100 one-pound packages of venison. She said the donations were extremely well received by food pantry patrons, which can number up to 150 people each week in the winter months.

“I was a little skeptical about whether the folks who come to the pantry would be open to taking that meat, and would be able to handle it,” Ms. Hannemann said. “So many of our folks don’t really have extensive cooking facilities, a lot of them don’t have extensive food storage. But everyone was so excited about getting it. That meat went so quickly it was unbelievable, and we already have been getting questions about whether we were going to get it again this year. Whatever they are able to produce, we will definitely be able to use.”

Nevette Previd, who helps coordinate the program for Island Grown Initiative, said she hopes the model can be an inspiration to others. “We’re a little bit of a case study of the Department of Public Health,” she said. “A lot of it is just trying to figure out the program to make sure everyone is comfortable. It’s new.”

Ms. Previd added that the program includes all precautions for food safety, and is being monitored by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Brian Athearn, president of the Agricultural Society and an avid hunter, lauded the efforts of the program.

“It’s terrific. It’s a great idea, and long time coming,” Mr. Athearn said. “If they work with the hunters a little bit more and then the state a little bit more, I think it could be quite a prolific little program. Get the food back into the community. This whole self-sustaining thing touches me deeply. It’s something I’ve always strived for personally, and I think now that we’re doing it as a community I think it’s even better.”

Mr. Athearn said the Martha’s Vineyard Hunt Club, of which he is a member, is committed to the donation program, and intends take additional deer this season and donate them.

He said the Agricultural Society was working this year to install an additional cold storage facility at the Ag Hall to provide even more room for donated deer, but those plans fell through. He expects to have the facility up and running next year by the time deer season arrives.

Dick Johnson, an environmental consultant and field biologist for the Martha’s Vineyard Tick Borne Illness Reduction Initiative, said it is unlikely that the number of additional deer taken for the donation program will affect the Island’s tick population in the short term. But in the long term, as more and more female deer are taken, it could help, he said.

The state Division of Fish and Wildlife estimates there are about 50 deer per square mile on Martha’s Vineyard, or about 5,000 deer. That number is far in excess of deer populations per square mile in most rural parts of Massachusetts.

“I particularly like the deer donation program because it dovetails so well with what the tick program is trying to do,” Mr. Johnson said. “Although in and of itself it won’t greatly reduce the number of deer, it does help call attention to the overabundance of deer on the Island and how this relates to tick borne diseases and hopefully will encourage people to allow bow and arrow hunting on their land.”

Mr. Macfarlane is also enthusiastic about reducing tick-borne disease, having worked outside most of his life in a career as a conservationist.

“I was exposed to ticks in large quantities,” Mr. Macfarlane said. “I have always been vocal about the need to do more for the tick-borne illness side of things on the Island. I think it’s very timely. I’m ecstatic to be involved in the program. I think it’s just a win, win, win.”