On Eating Roadkill

In most of the country, big game season is just about wrapping up or already over. Many hunters are enjoying cooking and eating their harvests, but maybe you are not one of them. Maybe you didn’t get out as much as you thought you would or maybe it just wasn’t your year. With your freezer empty, what do you do when you still want to eat wild game? Some folks may be able to get some from a friend, can fill the freezer with fish or small game, or are even comfortable eating vegetarian for a bit, but others can’t. Well, there is still one option: roadkill.

We’ve all seen animals on the side of the road or highway that are totally obliterated, but there are plenty of animals, if found fast enough, that are still plenty edible and provide a viable opportunity to eating wild game. Roadkill cuisine has grown in popularity in recent years. There was even a show in the UK called The Roadkill Chef staring Fergus Drennan, and there are various roadkill cuisine cookbooks now available. Interestingly enough, even the famous animal right’s activist, Peter Singer, has advocated for eating roadkill, since the meat would otherwise go to waste.

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My brother picked up a deer last year that he watched get hit by the car in front of him, and we picked up one when I was home this October, too. There was no discernible difference in the taste of the meat whatsoever. None. There does seem to be a bit more blood in the meat that I notice when I’m vacuum sealing, but this makes sense since they were not taken with a bow or a gun and therefore may not have lost much blood when it was killed.

Find the Rules and Regulations
So what do you need to know? Before you do anything, you will need to find out the legality of picking up roadkill in your state. Eating roadkill is only legal in thirty states, and yours may not be one of them. If it is legal in your state, you’ll need to figure out the exact regulations. They all vary quite a bit, and almost all require some kind of permit. How you get that permit varies as well, some requiring you call a state trooper. Many states only allow deer to be salvaged. Figure out what you need to do with the rest of the animal as well when you’re done butchering.

As an example, in Oregon where I currently live, it has been legal to keep roadkill with a permit since January 2019. Only deer and elk may be taken. The entire animal must be taken, meaning you cannot skin and butcher it on the side of the road, and the antlers and the head must be returned to ODFW. Animals whose antlers have been removed either by the impact or by a human are not eligible to be taken.

Where to Start
Once you’ve figured out regulations for your state, then you’re ready to start looking for some fresh roadkill. In the eastern states I’ve previously lived in, like New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, unless you live in a major metropolitan area, there is more or less roadkill all over the place. It probably won’t take long for you to find some. If you live in an area where roadkill is harder to find and animal populations are more dispersed, there are quite a few Facebook Roadkill Salvage Groups that post locations and how fresh the kill is. Try to find one in your local area. I am currently in several in Oregon.

Things to Consider and Tips
Only take animals that are as fresh as possible. First, take into account how long you think the animal has been there. Maybe this is a route you take every day and night to and from work. Was the animal there last night? This morning? When you find one that seems fresh, is it still warm to the touch? Has rigor fully set in? Are the eyes still reflective? These may be indicators of how recently it was killed but are not steadfast rules about whether or not the meat is still good. Much of that will be dictated by the temperature. Are the temperatures cool or cold enough that the meat won’t go bad if it did sit out overnight or for a day? Meat will likely keep overnight at 40 degrees or lower outside, and for shorter periods if it’s higher than 40. If you live somewhere very warm, you may want to stick to animals you personally see hit.

Since the internal organ damage can be pretty catastrophic, you are probably going to want to do the gutless method. When processing, check out the meat thoroughly. Does it look and smell how it always looks and smells? Is it still warm? Has the meat gone bone sour? If it looks and smells like it usually does, and you can verify its pretty fresh, you’re probably good to go. If you’re still worried, you could always cook it a bit more than usual or stick to using it in stews and slow-cooked meals, etc.

Picking up roadkill may not be the most glamorous thing in the world but hey, the meat doesn’t go to waste, you’re helping clean up a road, and it beats the hell out of eating tag soup. So good luck out there; roadkill season is still open.

Benjamin Burgholzer

Benjamin Burgholzer is an enthusiast of wild foods and wild places, a part-time professor, small business owner, freelance writer, and the Managing Editor of Harvesting Nature. A novice backpack hunter and seasoned fly fisherman, when he is not working or writing, he spends as much time as possible in the mountains of Oregon, where he has recently moved to from upstate New York.

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