How To Age Roadkill 101

Car culture signifies one of the most wasteful, violent and pollutive parts of civilization; from co2 emissions, fragmenting of habitat through road-building and poisoning of plants and water with toxic metals and the murdering of countless animals and insects. Dying by the wheels of an automobile has no humanity, no respect. Many animals experience a mortal wound from car accidents and die slow deaths in the gutter. I hate cars. I hate traffic. I hate this legacy of the last 100 years of car culture. I hate oil companies. I hate civilization. And I really fucking hate assholes like Tom Green who make a mockery of this tragedy (Poop on the end of a microphone? Funny. Humping the rotting corpse of a dead moose, who died a pointless death in the name of civilization’s progression, and in front of millions of people just for its mere shock value? Well… Not so funny).

I hate what roadkill symbolizes; a world moving too fast to even recognize the lives of those it destroys. Of course, roadkill only exists with car culture, with civilization. Without fuel, you don’t have cars. Without cars you have no road maintenance. Without road maintenance, roads quickly deteriorate. In time roadkill will not exist.

In rewilding often we use these cast off road carcasses as teaching tools. Hunting takes a lot more skill than scavenging. I have always seen the scavenging of roadkill for learning more about rewilding kind of like those people who donate their bodies to science. Only, those people had a choice. I can think of nothing more dishonorable than letting an animal rot in the gutter. In no way does it honor the life of the dead. I feel that picking up and learning from and finding uses for these animals honors their lives and gives them some semblance of a respectful death. Of course, I also say that if you pick up roadkill and use its parts for food and tools than you make an agreement with that species to dismantle car culture and learn to take their lives in honorable, more humane ways.

So now you feel ready to pick up your first roadkill, but you don’t know how to tell if it has the freshness you want. And believe me, you want it fresh. Of course, like any rewilding practice, many people share different opinions based on their own experiences and comfort zones. I have heard of people eating stinky, rotten green meat and not feeling ill. I have seen footage of hunter-gatherers chase vultures from carrion, roast it in the fire and eat it without a problem. Some people have a higher tolerance to bacteria than others. Especially those who grew up eating it in hunter-gatherer cultures. I didn’t, so I don’t. But I’ve also had people call me a coward. Like the time I refused to take a bite of the raw deer heart that my friend passed around the campfire.

Back to ageing roadkill. I have three questions that I ask. 1) What does it look like? 2) What does it smell like? And 3) What does it feel like?

What does it look like?
The word roadkill will generally provoke the image of a flattened animal, guts splattered everywhere, crawling with maggots and tire tracks racing across its back. If you have to scrape it off the street with a spatula, you probably don’t want it. If it has a large rupture, you may find a use for the hide, but leave the meat for the crows & coyotes. If it crawls with maggots, turn around and slowly walk away… unless you feel ready to cook your first maggot stew (that will come later). Basically, you can generally age it by looking at it. If they eyes look moist and not dry, it probably died recently. If the fur looks nice and clean and fluffy, it probably died recently. If it looks wet and crusty and dirt has splashed up on it from many cars driving by, it probably died a while ago. If it looks mangy it might have had rabies or some other disease you will get too if you eat it. When you cut it open you’ll definitely want to check the organs for spots. Disease will generally show up as spots on the liver, but it can carry to other organs as well. If you don’t know how to identify the liver, I suggest buying a biology text or doing an internet search.

What does the fur smell like?
Does it smell like a wet dog or Penny Scout’s feet? If it doesn’t smell bad on the outside (aside from the stinking wet dog smell) skin it. When skinning it, what does the meat smell like? When I first started skinning animals I couldn’t stand the smell of even fresh meat. Eventually you learn to tell the stink of fresh meat from the stink of meat you don’t want to eat. Go with your gut. I mean, you know when it stinks from spoilage. You just know, like the difference between stinking wet dog smell and Penny Scout’s feet; you know which one will kill.

What does it feel like?
You will often notice the stiffness of an animal. When it first dies, its body will feel limp, floppy even and internally warm. Eventually rigor mortis will set in and it stiffens. A while after that, rigor mortis will go away and it will feel limp again. I generally don’t eat them if they have gone all the way through rigor, but I know people who will still eat the meat. You may even see fleas on it or ticks. Watch out for these bugs as they will want a new host and your body will make the perfect one. They also carry diseases such as lime disease and the boubonic plague. Still feel like proceeding? Still feel like proceeding? I will generally pick up a leaf and use it to pinch some hair and so I don’t have to touch it with my hand. If you tug the hair and it stays in firm you can at least tan the hide into leather.

Another element in safely scavenging roadkill involves how you process it. As with any kind of meat, don’t get shit on it. When you “free the anus,” do a damn good job. The impact of the car has so much force that sometimes it will make the animals guts explode, shooting bloody bile out of their mouth and bloody shit out of their asshole and sometimes this will spoil much of the meat inside. I can’t say that without tearing up. What a fucking terrible way to die. I fucking hate civilization so much. Take extra care when cutting around the butt and throat and make sure to keep all the meats clean.

You now have the basic gist. The rest will come with time and practice. Now get out there and start honoring the dead and feeding your family and grossing out your friends. And remember your promise to dismantle car culture.

For more information check out my blogs “Meeting My Meat“ where I skin and butcher a roadkill squirrel and read about “How I Painlessly Lost My Roadkill Deer Virginity.”

7 Comments on “How To Age Roadkill 101”

  1. Thank you! I’ve wondered about scavenging some of the victims I see along the roadside, but I’ve never felt confident before about identifying what I can take safely.

    I see far, far too many along the parkway commuting to work, and it disturbs me how callous, how inhuman I’ve become that I can accept that. I have to drive every day right now to feed myself, but I think I can still promise my commitment to end car culture. Does it make me a hypocrite that I have to drive for the time being in order to further my plans to end driving forever? I don’t think it does, but then, I wouldn’t, would I?

    So next step, convincing Giuli that we can do this. She can get really squeamish–she won’t even eat bugs yet. Ah, all in good time, I suppose.

  2. Hey Jason,
    Glad this one inspired you. I still get queasy sometimes. And I will often have nightmares of being in a car accident the night after I skin roadkill. I wake up still feeling the g-forces of the accident. Pretty tripping stuff. I don’t think you’re a hypocrite. We can use cars to dismantle car culture.

  3. nice post, scout.
    i have harvested aLOT of roadkill, have eaten meat with shit all over it that i just simply wiped off. the thing about bacteria is, when you cook it, they die. so it doesnt matter too much how long the meat has sat there or if it has gotten some shit or bile on it so long as you cook it well.
    alot of meat that could be eaten is discarded cause a little bile gets spilled on it and a hunter thinks it all over….
    the stuff without bile is choice for drying.

  4. Hey M,
    FYI: Some bacteria excrete neuro-toxins that will not cook away. So even if you kill the living things, their poop can make you crazy. Haha. But yeah, I haven’t heard much about that as a danger… just something to think about. Thanks for the tip on the bile/drying!

  5. I was carless for a year or so after leaving a VA homeless program. The problem is the buses would not take me to my family and friends.

  6. I am 49 years old ,when I came across this on road kill :I couldn’t help but cackle with laughter I Live in the tic and briar country of Oklahoma this is nothing new too the way of life with me infact I marinaded a coon in a brine made of apple juice and 1 c salt .1 c Brown sugar and 6 cloves I boiled the brine cooled it down and soaked the coon in it refridgerated for several days and then smoked it ,nothing finer than free meat ~>Deliscious ,
    I get up about daylite to have coffee on one morning someone drove by in front and I heard a noice ,looked out and thought some one dumped a trash bag out front ;apon waaaaalking out to take a look there was to my surprice a big swamp rabbit ! yippee what a traet ,I have gathered many squirels for dumplings by keeping my eye out for road kill ,

  7. I got three road kill deer Oct 18th 09, On One, the biggest buck i ever have seen the Antlers were removed, I thought, probably an old kill. Feeling underneath the animal as I do to check for residual heat, it was warm. Location was shitty so I needed to load the thing. Must have been a site, me tugging at a 200 pound deer and trying to load it into my van, uhg! Found a place to dress out my deer without onlookers as if it were illegal!…gross-out most people anyways. So I am getting my hides for drums so I like them clean as possible. After getting into a location out of site, a little prayer for the gift and a moment to calm, I cut along the belly from crotch to neck and from sternum to front knees and from crotch to hind knees. Cut around the legs at the knees. them I proceed to skin from the belly to the back working with the side up only. Animal is laying on the ground. Once skinned to the back I remove the front leg, the back strap, and the hind quarter. Then I will initiate/start the skinning of the down side and then flip and the deer over. Mostly I strech the hide out so as to keep meat from touching the ground. I finsh skinning the deer and remove the second front leg the back strap and hind quarter. Somtimes I will hang the meat in tree branches as it comes off and somtimes I get it right into plastic bags if I am prepared. Wash hands, knife and face when done, before reentry into car culture. Good to carry water 1/2 gallon or so. Check for blood on cloths/shoes before going in anywhere.
    I get it home with or without the hooves and set/hang it to dry and cure or until it is in the freezer which ever comes first. Recomend not getting the meat wet with water, If tainted with bile, flush it with water and dry it off and let to dry for a day in a cool environment.
    No saw is nessisary.
    Remember that most animals coming to feast on a dead deer will eat the ass end and the stomach first, these digestive enzymes are important to carnivours.
    Cut the meat from the bone and then cut into patties across the length of the grain of the muscle.
    Bag up in quart and gallon size freezer bags, flatten, and stack in the freezer. Keep one animals meat seperate from anothers and good from bad should you concieve there may be a difference. Make portions out for usablility, ie not too much/little in one bag.
    Try this, Lower Front leg meat is pritty tough so cut it across the grain every 1/2 inch and slow cook it in water for 24 to 28 hours. Then add vegatables and egg noodles to the soup. When noodes are done stop cooking and eat. This meat is rich and tender now.
    Why would some one stop to take just the antlers of a buck when the whole thing was still good, thats just evil.
    I was looking for deer to get. I got three and saw 9 between Lousville and Cincinnati. What ever happened to wildlife couridoors? Roadside death must be awful.
    Hope this helps. Rich Spirit