A growing number of Maine hunters are giving up their deer, moose and bear to help out the needy.

The state-run Hunters for the Hungry Program gives donated meat to food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters to feed those in need.

The program, which was started in 1996, averaged about 2,500 pounds of donated meat each year until a couple of years ago, said Jason Hall, who heads the program for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

That number rose to 3,000 pounds two years ago and to 5,000 pounds last year, Hall said.

“We have hunters who figure they can enjoy the sport they love and help others at the same time,” he said.

With deer-hunting firearms season well underway, Hall is renewing his call for hunters to donate some or all of their harvest in hopes of topping last year’s total. Biologists are expecting Maine’s hunters to harvest 25,000 to 26,000 deer this fall.

Hunters can bring their animals to participating meat processors, who are reimbursed by the state for their costs. The processed meat is distributed to places that serve people in need.

Dave Wozniak, of Nottingham, N.H., donated a buck weighing an estimated 160 pounds after shooting it in Phillips on Wednesday. He had no need for the meat because his home freezer is already well-stocked with deer and moose, he said.

Wozniak gave his deer to a Maine warden, who took it to a meat processor for him.

“I decided if I was going to shoot a deer, this program would a good place to give the meat to,” Wozniak said.

Hall is working to increase donations by promoting the program. The Hunters for the Hungry Facebook page has nearly 500 “likes.”