Eating Local: Roadkill is native, organic and free-range
As Ed and I drove home after his talk on bees and pesticides for ACES in Carbondale a few weeks ago, he shouted, “Hey! Watch it, what the heck is going on?”
I’d swerved hard. “I was avoiding that deer lying in my lane,” I explained, “that was just hit by that car,” I surmised as we passed a vehicle pulled off on the shoulder.
It was an enormous animal. Visions flashed through my mind of smashing into the possibly still-suffering ungulate with my low-slung red Saturn. I saw its head, if for only for the briefest moment as my headlights swept over it. I couldn’t say if it was dead or alive.
The next day I spotted the animal not far from the place it met its ugly fate where an access road intersects Highway 82. Someone had dragged it there, and a pickup truck was parked in front of it. As I whizzed by I saw its large, long legs sticking out at odd angles. I revised my assessment: it looked like an elk, not a deer.
I wondered if there was a relationship between the truck and the carcass. Later the pickup had moved on. The elk was still there, but just the trunk. Missing were those long weird legs. “That could be an easy way to get a lot of meat,” Ed surmised later when I told him about it.
In the coming days, magpies perched and pecked on the mound of fur, followed by crows that politely lined up on the bank above the constantly diminishing, deteriorating elk. Corvids fare well on the carnage along our highways and byways, thank you very much.
I cringe inwardly at the sight of every newly slaughtered creature, great and small. I never, ever get used to it.
The statistics are crushing. A 2013 article in Scientific American pegged the loss at 1 million animals per year squashed on U.S. roadways, but most other sources agree that it’s 1 million per day. Per day or per year, whatever. Anyhow, who’s counting? Not the state wildlife agency, which used to get e-mails from the transportation department, which scrapes them up from the sides of the roads. The insurance industry keeps some statistics, because they pay out big money: $3.6 billion in damage yearly.
The auto-inflicted mortality genocide is bad not just for animal lovers and wildlife generally, but also for drivers — a couple of hundred die along with their quarry every year — insurance companies and endangered species. However, the carnage (pardon the pun) benefits carrion-eaters.
Roadkill: perhaps our most authentic local food. It’s native, organic and free-range.
James Fletcher let out a hearty laugh when I asked if he knows anything about roadkill.
He came from southern Florida — a state where roadkill plagues wildlife, from turtles and alligators to endangered panthers — but he’s called Rifle home for 27 years. Fletcher is a hunter with a taste for wild game.
If he finds a freshly killed, relatively undamaged carcass, he picks it up, then notifies Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The agency issues a form for legal possession.
CPW doesn’t make it hard to keep it legal. Officers often issue permits in the field. If it’s after hours or a weekend, they ask that highway hunters leave a message, or call come Monday morning. If it’s a trophy animal — a male or an especially large specimen — a game officer will check it out. Poachers have been known to kill a bull elk, then claim it was roadkill, Kasi Rishel told me from the local CPW office. But otherwise, she prefers to see the meat used.
Fletcher agrees it’s better not to waste the meat. The first thing to do, after the call to Parks and Wildlife, is cut away the damaged meat. Usually the side of impact is “bloodshot,” meaning the muscle is bruised and ruined for eating. Once he’s discarded that, Fletcher makes quick work of skinning, butchering and freezing the rest. “I don’t pay for much meat from the store,” he said.
Drivers kill roughly two times more animals annually than hunters do, if statistics are to be believed. The numbers are astonishing, but Rishel guesstimates she gets a roadkill permit call “once a week, if that.” More calls come in the winter, when game leaves the high country for the highway, and subfreezing temperatures keep the kills fresher. Even in the spring and summer, Fletcher said fresh kills are still good.
How much meat? An elk yields 200 pounds of solid meat, said Fletcher. Deer vary dramatically, from 40 pounds to 100 pounds from a “monster.”
He came upon a little buck near Harvey Gap a few years ago. Only its head got mangled in the accident. It was an excellent find.
He makes steaks, burger and sausage. I asked him about his favorite recipes. He told me I’d better give him a call when I start scavenging roadkill. It takes some know-how, but he’ll set me on the road to success.
Marilyn Gleason writes Eating Local periodically for the PI’s Food pages.
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