Editors Blog

Roadkill Deer: Legal or Not, Think Twice Before You Pickup

Standing with a recently killed deer that was run over on a nearby highway, members of a special U.S. Air Force survival course pose by the gutted carcass of their animal in a forest near their facility at Fairchild Air Force Base, Spokane, Wash. (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)

Is it legal to pickup roadkill deer in your state? It has to be … right? Not so fast. Believe it or not, there are at least 23 states that don’t allow roadkill deer possession. At least not outright. More on that later. Before we delve into the legality of the roadkill deer saga, let’s examine a more sensible question: Would you even want to pickup a roadkill deer given the chance? My immediate answer, based off real experience, is a resounding NO.

Disclaimer: My sample size is only five encounters, but let me tell you here and now: Just because it might be legal to pickup roadkill (dead deer) in your state, don’t be in a rush to do so. I’m sure some of you loyal readers will chime in and tell me I’m wrong and that roadkill deer are great sources of fresh venison, but … OOF … eating roadkill is akin to a graduate lesson in nasty, in my limited experience on this matter.

Let me explain.

It was September 1995, and I was an apple-cheeked editor here at Deer & Deer Hunting. I had just turned my pickup truck north on the county highway to head toward the office at daybreak. Don’t remember what was on the radio, but I recall I was happily air-drumming to some sort of hair-metal song when BAM! Something hit the front of my truck. I could feel the impact extend throughout the undercarriage.

What the?!? I hissed as I pulled the truck off the road and on to the gravel shoulder. I had never hit anything while driving in my life. But sure as heck, there in the middle of the road about 75 yards behind me was a plump whitetail … wriggling its last few gasps. Dang.

By the time I walked back to the deer, it was dead. It was a monster doe, and by all outward appearances it didn’t have as much as a scratch on it. No broken bones. Nothing. I grabbed one leg and dragged it to the side of the road so no one else would hit it. As I walked back to my truck, the thought of keeping that roadkill didn’t really cross my mind. That changed when a sheriff’s deputy pulled up beside me.

“Bummer way to start the day, huh?” he said out of his patrol car.

“Yeah, no kidding,” I replied. “But at least my truck’s OK.”

“You want it?” he asked.

“The deer?” I replied, pausing to think about it. “Yeah, I guess so. Why not?”

Within minutes, the officer issued me a roadkill deer carcass possession tag. He wouldn’t help me load it in my truck though.

“No way,” he said. “I threw out my back once doing that. Never again.”

I laughed and loaded it up myself — with struggle, I might add — and turned back toward town and my rented apartment’s garage. I quickly changed out of my work clothes and into some ratty jeans and a t-shirt. In the garage, I laid down spliced-open garbage bags as a makeshift work station. Won’t take long to field-dress this old doe, I thought, no wounds whatsoever. Easy peasy.

I’ll save most of the vivid details of the sight and smell of that whole field dressing a deer process. Holy smokes. Let’s just say that a blunt-force injury from a motor vehicle turns a deer’s innards to something short of pudding. Absolutely nasty. What’s more, there was hardly a scrap of salvageable meat on the backstraps — the entire area was dark purple. I did manage to save most of one ham, but that’s about it. It took me several hours to “process” that roadkill deer. It certainly wasn’t worth the effort.

Albert Einstein once said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Well, I guess I’m insane. Strike that. Was insane.

In the decade that followed, I tried salvaging four more roadkills for other people. Same story on all of them: The roadkill deer looked “perfectly fine” after the accidents. And, yes, the innards on all of them resembled nuclear explosions. A buddy and I tried to get smart with the last one (which occurred about a dozen years ago). On that deer (another monster doe), we initially tried the no-gut method of skinning the deer first. Didn’t help matters, as all of the prime cuts were badly bloodshot from the deer hitting the pavement after impacting the vehicle.

We laugh about it now, but as they say, you live and learn. I’ve learned that I want nothing to do with another roadkill deer — unless it involves using it for trail-camera coyote bait.

This brings us today’s news brief out of Oregon

It has been apparently illegal to pickup roadkills in Oregon for, well, ever, I guess. That changed thanks to a new law that allows Beaver State residents to legally lay claim to, among other things, roadkill deer and elk. News hit the wires last summer when Gov. Kate Brown signed the proposal into law. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission just now adopted a set of possessions regulations to go with the law.

One of the supposed struggles with this new law is how wildlife officers are going to deal with poachers.

“We need to figure out how to protect against people going out and hitting deer or elk intentionally,” Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife deputy administrator Ken Loffink told Fox 12 Oregon. “We’ll work closely with OSP to develop rules so that we have a program that allows us to salvage meat, but manages the species so that folks aren’t going out and doing things the wrong way, or purposefully.”

Wow. Really? Someone is going to risk inflicting thousands of dollars in damage to their vehicle in an attempt to thump a 100- to 200-pound deer or, worse, 500- to 700-pound elk?

They would have to be mighty dang hungry, if you ask me.

Is it safe to eat roadkill deer? Absolutely. The caveat: IF there’s anything left to eat. You certainly don’t want to risk eating venison that’s been smeared with blown-open stomach contents. That’s just asking for trouble, in my opinion.

But I digress. State data in nearby Washington shows that 1,783 deer and elk were harvested from Washington highways since roadkill salvage was legalized there in 2016.

In closing, California is really the only state (that I could find, anyway) that strictly prohibits the possession of roadkill. According to that states regs, legal possession is only allowed if an animal is taken by legal means during an open season. Every other state that I’ve investigated has some kind of provision for possession. For example, in Louisiana it is illegal to pickup a roadkill deer without first having prior consent of a game warden. More progressive states, like Wisconsin, allow motorists to call in the accident and get verbal approval from a game officer. 

Fast Facts on Roadkill Deer in the U.S.

#1: Pennsylvania. Top state in the nation with an average of more than 100,000 car-deer accidents annually. The state issues more than 3,300 roadkill deer permits annually.

1.5 million: Number of deer hit on U.S. roadways each year.

$2,000: Average minimum cost for repairing a vehicle after a collision with a deer.

$190: The amount a Michigan man was fined for picking up a roadkill deer without first obtaining a permit.

 

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