DAVENPORT, Iowa -- Jim Koens, a longtime leader and member of Davenport's Elks Lodge #298, rummaged through a barrel labeleled "Deer Hides Only," fishing out a large, blood-stained deer hide, stretching it with both arms.
One month into the beginning of deer hunting season in Iowa, the Davenport Elks fraternal order is asking for hunters to donate their deer hides to the Elks' Veterans Leather Program.
The 81-year-old Koens brought them inside a storage shed and put them on a wooden table. With the help of Jerry King and Russell Weisrock, he prepared the freshly skinned hides for storage, trimming off excess skin or unusable pieces punctured by holes.
"We might as well cut off. They can’t use them in the tanneries," he explained.
The three took turns stretching hide out on the table, cutting off the tails, and pouring copious amounts of salt on the skin side.
"The salt preserves it and gets the moisture out of the hides. Once they’re salted they can be stores for months before they’re tanned."
Johnny's Meat Market in Davenport and Schnoor's Smokehouse in Walcott also regularly send bags of deer hides to the team, while Cargill donates the salt.
"75 bags of salt every year," Koens said.
The hides are piled into large boxes and when they fill up, Koens and his friends transport them to an Elks storage in Cedar Rapids. At the end of the collection season, in February, they go to a tannery and made into leather.
"In Arkansas somewhere, they tan all the hides. They make 3,000 to 4,000 wheelchair gloves, plus kits for occupational therapy, bags, gloves."
Disabled veterans at these homes use them for stimulating projects during therapy. Some are able to sell their crafts for additional income.
Members of the Elks fraternal order nationwide donated more than 19,000 hides this past season to help vets on their road to recovery. More than 4000 hides came from Iowa.
"One of the Elks' oaths is, as long as there’s a disabled veteran, the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks will never forget them," Koens said.
Last year Lodge #298 collected 1171 hides, a record the trio hoped to break this year. They just needed more help, the men said.
"We need younger help is what we need," Koens said.