With the end of rutting season for deer and elk, many a motorist has probably seen roadkill along the shoulders of U.S. highways 160 and 550, and the more frugal drivers may have wondered: Hey, can I harvest some of the meat?
Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said while the practice is not encouraged, and it is to your advantage to know what you are doing, there is a permit residents can obtain within 48 hours after harvesting roadkill to make the acquisition legal and square with the state.
Daniel Hinds, a hunter and tanner for the past 17 seasons who harvests roadkill several times a year, says it is not a job for the squeamish, and those who take advantage of a free meal are often “up to your elbows in blood and guts and you have to deal with a lot of unpleasant smells.”
“It’s definitely not for everyone. Very, very rarely does an animal get hit only in the head,” Hinds said. “Usually, there’s quite a bit of carnage.”
As a veteran hunter, Hinds said he can assess good meat from bad, which is crucial in dealing with the trauma an animal suffers after it is hit. The hindquarters and the front quarters are often ruined depending on where the animal was killed.
Hinds sees it as his duty to harvest the meat.
“I have a lot of respect for the animal and for the land from where it came. I don’t want to see it go to waste,” Hinds said.
Lance Gideon, another hunter, agrees. The best thing about harvesting roadkill is the frugality and economical ethic behind the act. “It’s a good thing to do. At least the meat doesn’t go to waste,” he said.
“Some people look at it like, ‘Oh, it’s gross,’ but it tastes better than store-bought meat,” Gideon said.
Another benefit from harvesting roadkill, Hinds said, is the hide can be salvaged, and because it does not have a bullet hole, it can be of excellent quality for tanners. Also, the brain can be harvested for use as an emulsifier in traditional tanning practices as a replacement for chemicals used in commercial tanning.
Most roadkill deer and elk are hit from October through December – the rutting season – a time when Hinds said: “They aren’t really thinking straight.”
Lewandowski said the purpose in requiring a roadkill permit is to serve as a hedge against poaching. Scavengers should bring in a photograph of the roadkill to Parks and Wildlife within 48 hours of harvesting to obtain a permit. But if the roadkill is a large buck with a rack, people must bring in the head to, once again, hedge against poaching since racks can be sold on the black market.
Deer and elk can be harvested, Lewandowski said, but people cannot harvest other roadkill, including bighorn sheep, mountain goats, bears or mountain lions.
Residents must identify on the permit where the animal was picked up, so people should note the nearest mile marker to the carcass. Having an eyewitness can help provide assurance that the animal was picked up legally. If a law enforcement officer pulls up, drivers should ask the officer to document the details, including location and date of the kill, as an aid in getting the permit.
While the state worries about people using roadkill harvesting as a cover for poaching, Hind says the practice is really the opposite of poaching.
“You’re really utilizing a resource that would otherwise go to waste,” he said. “The trimmings you can’t harvest; you take them back into the woods so the critters can get to it.”