Should You Eat Roadkill? 8 Important Rules to Consider First

SurvivalWoman SurvivalWoman  |  Updated: December 16, 2020
Should You Eat Roadkill? 8 Important Rules to Consider First

If the thought of preparing dinner from a dead animal found in the road makes you squeamish, join the club.  I personally find the thought revolting but then again, I have a robust pantry full of food for both the short and the long term, and currently do not feel compelled to eat roadkill of any type.

That being said, should you eat roadkill?  Are there situations were eating roadkill will become a necessity?

Let us play “what if” for a moment.  What if there was a global famine and no food coming down the food chain?  What if your garden was producing vegetables but was sorely lacking in sources of protein?  What if there was a second great depression and ordinary folks like you and I had no jobs, no money, and no food other than what we could forage?

Should You Eat Roadkill? 8 Important Rules to Consider First - Backdoor Survival

If that were the case, roadkill might start to look pretty darn good.  That said, are you sure you really want to eat roadkill?   Only you can answer that but my guess is that under the most dire of circumstances, the answer would be yes.

Let us hope we never have to eat roadkill to survive, but if we do, my friend Todd Walker at Survival Sherpa has come up with 8 roadkill rules to follow before you even take your first bite.  After reading this, you just might open your mind to eating roadkill in a survival situation.

Manna from Motorists: 8 Roadkill Rules to Follow Before You Swallow

It’s practically a self-reliance commandment:  Thou shalt not waste food.

You won’t find these words on a stone tablet, but these 5 words are rock-solid advice!

The smallest ripple in the industrial food machine can wreak havoc on food prices and availability. That’s one reason self-reliant types grow some, if not most, of their own groceries. Cultivating food independence is hard work, sweat-of-the-brow kind of stuff.

You deserve an unexpected gift, a miracle of sorts. The roadways are the perfect place to claim your next free-range fur or feathered meal.


Hardly! It’s the ethically thing to do out of respect for the animal victim. See Self-Reliance Commandment above.

More questions swirl in minds of refined readers, followed by the inevitable…

Why, I’d never eat from a ditch!!

Here’s the thing, though…

Roadkill is an overlooked secret survival sauce. You gotta eat to survive. Food costs money. Roadkill is free. Plus, it’s healthier than factory farmed animals injected with who knows what. Wild animals usually have superior diets to any meat you get from factory farming.

How do you know if manna from motorists is safe to eat?

If you experience a fender bender with Bambi or witnessed the crash, you know the exact time of demise. When you run across a potential meal on a road trip or daily commute, how can you be sure it’s safe to harvest? There are many variables to consider.

8 Rules of Roadkill

Follow these Roadkill Rules to help determine if food by Ford is safe to swallow.

1. Legal Stuff

Any fur-bearing animal or bird is edible. However, laws on harvesting roadkill or possession of protected species vary from state to state. Check out this interactive map to see if your state allows the collection of roadkill.

In the Peach state, motorists may collect deer without notifying authorities. Bear collisions must be reported but you get to keep the bruin.

Texas, California, and Washington are among the few states that prohibit roadkill collection. In Alaska, the Fish and Wildlife personnel collect reported road-killed animals and distribute to charities helping the needy.

Check your state laws first!

2. Impact Damage

The point of impact determines how much wild game meat is salvageable. My experience with broadside impacts are not good. Internal organs usually rupture and taint the meat. Not to mention all the bloodshot meat. As in hunting, a head shot saves meat.

Tire treads over the body usually means a bloody mess. Squashed squirrel would require a spatula to remove from the asphalt and should be avoided. Large animals such as deer are more likely to provide salvagable meat for the table. Venison is a tasty addition to your freezer.

3. Clear Eyes

If the eyes are intact and clear, the animal is likely a fresh kill. Cloudy eyes hint that the animal has been dead for some time (more than a few hours).

Creamy discharges around the eyes or other orifices indicate a sick animal. If the eyes are gone, leave it alone.

4. Stiffness and Skin

Rigor mortis sets within a few hours of death. This is not a deal breaker depending on other indicators. The steak in the butcher’s glass counter has undergone the same process of “decay” or tenderizing.

Pinch the skin of the animal, unless it’s a porcupine, to check if the skin still moves freely along top of the muscle beneath. If so, you’re probably okay. Skin stuck to the muscle is a bad indicator. If fur can be pulled from the hide with a slight tug, the animal has been deceased far too long.

5. Bugs and Blood

Fleas feed on the blood of warm blooded animals. Brush the hair on the carcass and inspect for fleas like you would on a family pet. If fleas are present, that’s a good thing. Fleas won’t stick around on a cold body.

There’s usually blood involved when animals come in contact with 3,000 pound machines in motion. Blood all over the road may mean there’s too much damaged meat to salvage. The color of blood present should be a dark red, like, well, fresh blood. Dark puddles of blood have been there been there a while.

Flies could be a bad sign. They lay larvae in wounds and other openings of the body. A few flies present isn’t always a deal breaker. A prior wound on a living animal may contain maggots. We had a live deer seek refuge in my mother-in-laws car port who had a broken hind leg from a vehicle collision which was infested with maggots. I approached her in an attempt to humanely dispatch her and put her out of her misery. Sadly, she gained her footing and disappeared through our neighborhood woods.

In the hot, humid summers of Georgia, it only takes a few minutes for flies to zero in on dead stuff. Which brings us to our next consideration…

Survival Sherpa Road Kill

A Large Beaver Found on the Side of the Road

6. Climate and Weather

The weather conditions and geographical location are variables to consider. Cold to freezing temperatures is ideal – think… roadside walk-in freezer or fridge. Meat will decompose quickly in hot and humid conditions.

One steamy August evening years ago, I was in my backyard and heard tires screech followed by a distinctive thud on a nearby road. I walked two doors down and found a freshly dispatched deer laying on the grassy right-of-way. That gift primed my freezer before fall hunting season.

7. Smell

This one is pretty obvious.

If it has a putrid odor, leave it alone. You don’t have to be a TV survival expert to identify bad meat. Your old factory sensors will let you know… along with your gag reflex.

Ever break the cellophane on a pack of chicken breasts you forgot about in the back of your fridge? Register that stench for future roadside foraging.

8. Collection and Processing Tips

Our vehicles are prepared with Get Home Kits. You may want to add a few items to it or build a separate Roadkill Kit. My kit is simple and includes:

If you don’t drive a pickup truck, wrap large carcasses in a tarp and place in the vehicle for transport. Smaller animals usually go in a contractor grade garbage bag to get home.

It’s common sense in my mind… Do NOT field dress an animal on the side of the road! It’s dangerous, illegal (hopefully), unsightly, and disrespectful to both animal and human. I’ve seen some really stupid and disgusting practices over the years from unethical “hunters” and idiots.

If you’re not prepared to harvest game properly, stick with the supermarkets.

Cooking Roadkill

Of course you want to watch out for anything that seems off when cutting up or preparing roadkill for cooking. If you have never cooked wild game before then it is worth taking a look at some recipes and cooking methods online. Game such as wild pigs has a taste that some people find a little too wild tasting. This can be reduced by seasoning properly.

Don’t practice slob self-reliance!

Rant over…

When processing wild game animals or fowl, (road-killed or not) always check the internal organs – heart, liver, lungs, kidneys – before going any further. Dispose of the animal properly (or report it to local wildlife officials for study) if the organs are discolored or showing yellow-greenish discharge.

Again, use your sniffer. If it smells bad, it probably is.


Todd Walker and his website, Survival Sherpa, have been around as long as Backdoor Survival or close to it.  Survival Sherpa offers extraordinary articles on what Todd calls “Doing the Stuff”.

To learn more about the he is doing, visit Survival Sherpa on Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, Instagram, and  Facebook.  You can also check out the Doing the Stuff Network on Pinterest, Google+, and Facebook.

The Final Word

The subject of eating roadkill may be distasteful or even taboo for some.  On the other hand, there are many that consider finding a deer, moose or other animal in the middle road a real treasure.

The purpose of this article is not to judge, but rather to open up the possibility of eating roadkill if you have to, and further, doing so in a safe manner.  You only want to eat roadkill if it is fresh, regardless of how hungry you are.  And remember, even if it is not edible, you may still be able to salvage and use the hide.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

If you enjoyed this article, consider voting for Backdoor Survival daily at Top Prepper Websites!  In addition, SUBSCRIBE to email updates  and receive a free, downloadable copy of my e-book The Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide.

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No Rinse Cleansing & Deodorizing Bathing Wipes: One wipe was more than enough for a complete “bath”. These are a good backup when traditional showers are not available such as the week or weeks following a disaster. Also good for camping, boating, hiking and such.

No Rinse Moisturizing Body Wash: This stuff leaves your skin feeling fresh and clean with a delicate scent.

Hand Sanitizer Gels: Alcohol based hand sanitizer gels kill 99% of bacterial on contact. They are inexpensive and easy to use.

Genuine Joe Gel Hand Sanitizer, 16oz: When shopping, I have always had good luck purchasing the #1 item in a particular category.  Alcohol based hand sanitizer gels kill 99% of bacterial on contact. They are inexpensive and easy to use.

3M TEKK Protection Chemical Splash/Impact Goggle:  I purchased these based upon the reviews and am thrilled with both how they fit and how comfortable they feel.  Highly recommended.

Dynarex Black Nitrile Exam Gloves, Heavy-Duty, Box/100:  This brand is the #1 seller.  Pick your size; both Shelly and I wear a medium.

Disposable Protective Coveralls: There are plenty to choose from and as with the gloves, better to be too large than to small.

3M Utility Duct Tape:  I am also stocking up on Duct tape.  After reading Duct Tape 911: The Many Amazing Medical Things You Can Do to Tape Yourself Together, I now know it has tons of medical uses.

The Survival Medicine Handbook: A Guide for When Help is Not on the Way: By Joe and Amy Alton, this book will teach you how to deal with all the likely medical issues you will face in a disaster situation, and including strategies to keep your family healthy even in the worse scenarios. It covers skills such as performing a physical exam, transporting the injured patient, and even how to suture a wound. This medical reference belongs in every survival library.

3M N95 Particulate & Respirator Mask: This is an inexpensive mask that can be used in a variety of emergency situations. They come in a box of 20 and are NIOSH-certified. The molded cone design is fluid and splash resistant and will greatly reduces your exposure to airborne particles.

Moldex 2730 N100 Respirator Mask:  Do not confuse P100 masks with the N100s.  N100 is what you want since the P100’s are used to filter particulate only and not gasses and vapors.  For a smaller person, I suggest the Moldex 2731 which is the same mask in a size small.


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33 Responses to “Should You Eat Roadkill? 8 Important Rules to Consider First”

  1. First of all, I would have to be STARVING but who knows what they can do or not. I live in TX and it is such a shame to be driving down the highway and see a dead deer on the side of the road. I feel if a deer is killed by my vehicle, damaged my vehicle then I should be able to harvest the fresh meat. Even with insurance on my vehicle, I still have to pay the deductible. But alas, here in TX deer are left on the side of the road to rot.

    • I think a lot of us suffer from the Bambi Syndrome when it comes to deer. One of these days I personally need to get over my distaste (mentally) for venison since if cooked properly, I am told it is quite delicious.

      Leaving a dead animal to rot at the side of the road (and to get picked at by buzzards or other scavengers) is just not right.

    • Here’s how you get over being able to kill/eat poor cute little Bambi. Live somewhere that has a significant population of deer. Then you are treated to the following:

      Play “dodge a deer” every day on the roadway. Plant a large garden, really work your butt off on it and then watch as the local deer population just absolutely devours it. ALL of it. Put out those lovely flowers and lovingly tend to them and then go out one evening to water them to find they have all been pulled out by the roots. Imagine your excitement when your baby Apple trees blossom for the first time and then the next day they have been eaten down to the trunk. Dig big holes and plant some shrubs/ornamentals to have them reduced to stubble in days. That new grapevine you just planted at that beautiful new arbor you worked so hard to erect? Toast.

      Deer are beautiful creatures and it’s so cool to watch them play chase with your dog and walk right up to your windows and peer at you just inches away through a screen. BUT…..

      Trust me, it really isn’t all that hard to get mad enough to want to shoot every one you can find if you actually have to DEAL with them in the real world.

      I live in an area that plays host to hundreds of them in the immediate vicinity, they really aren’t all that cute when destroying your stuff. LOL

    • Gaye, I don’t like red meat much at all really. And my first taste of venison was when as a kid and I just hated it, so I grew up avoiding it. Easy e my dad isn’t a great hunter, and we lived in So Cal, so not many visible road kills and off limits anyway far as I know. Fast forward many many years and I now live in Colorado. Freezer full of road kill venison. First time I cooked it (oh and I butchered first RK with my dads help now I do I on my own)my son was thrilled, me not so much. But guess what? It was good! Don’t expect it to taste like beef because it’s not. However, every roadkill after the first guy who was mainly used for dog food, have been female. They live where they eat differently, somewhat, from the ones out in the hunting areas and they are good. SO I think you should try a fresh roadkill Bambi, t female, and see what you think. You can also use some sort of garlic seasoning and that makes it even better. We do not soak or marinate, brine or any other sort “disguises” to get the gamey taste out, and it doesn’t taste gamey. Well not a lot anyway lol. I have noticed a kind of liver-y taste/texture sometimes but may be the cut.

    • so old article and I’m not sure how I found it just now… but in TX if you hit a deer and call the Game warden supposedly they will take the meat to be used for homeless shelters/food banks etc. It seems to me that the main reason you can’t take the meat from road kill is that for hunting you’re paying for a certain number of tags for a particular time of season to “harvest” the animals. When one is hit by a car I guess there arise legal concerns when and where the meat came from and they might consider it poaching. Sort of like they are saying that a vehicle is never a legal way to take a deer in TX. anyway – my guess is that most of the deer on the side of the road were never reported to the GW and just left by the drivers who hit them- could be that they spoil too fast in some times of the year as well as others have said. anyway just my 2 cents…

  2. I’m also in TX and its interesting to find out we can’t harvest roadkill, especially deer. But then the temps get so hot here that anything left on a Texas road for any length of time between April and October, is going to get very ripe very fast.
    But ultimately I don’t see a difference in hitting it with a car, shooting/trapping it, or coming home to find the dog/cat dragged it home. If it was healthy and now its freshly dead, then its a viable meal source. Prepped, seasoned and grilled, you probably wouldn’t know the difference from farm raised meat.

  3. I applaud you Gaye for having the courage to post an article like this. I confess that years ago, as a senseless youth, I hit a deer with my vehicle. It didn’t damage the vehicle badly enough to not drive and I was in the middle of nowhere and I just continued driving to my destination. It honestly didn’t occur to me to do anything more about it. That is until later that day when I was telling people about it! Phew did they give me the what-for for not calling them so they could go ‘harvest’ the meat! I am not now, (and hope to never be) desperate enough to harvest roadkill that an unknown driver hit at an unknown time. However, I would seriously consider the harvest if I was involved or witnessed the animal’s demise and if it was a large animal. I would add one more criteria to Todd’s list. If there was any sign that another animal had already started chewing on your found feast, I would let it be. Animals mouths are notorious for harboring dangerous bacteria and possibly parasites. Also, if you are biblical minded…we are not supposed to eat meat whose flesh was torn by another beast. Exodus 22:31

  4. That is a good point, Learner. There are a lot of deer where I live and when one is hit, we can call 911 and the response is immediate (for the deer as well as the driver). I am not sure what happens to the eat, I should check.

  5. I agree with everything Todd had to say. It is because I live in Anchorage, AK and we are on the road kill list. Because we live in the city, we know the time of the demise. I have to say that many of our moose have been hit by automobiles that leave them usually with broken legs or hips. Therefore the police officer usually has to shoot them. The meat
    is very clean except the effected area. Harvesting meat from a big moose can be as much as 600 lbs. I have to tell you the meat is cleaner than any meat in the store. No chemicals, full of vitamins and iron. Organic fed. There have been times that the collision site is not good and has to be thrown away.

    One thing to consider is that when cooking, should there been bacteria, the possibly of killing it is through the cooking process. Make sure all meat has been thoroughly cooked.
    Excellent article and follow his advice.

    Moose meat is milder than any cow. Prefer it over all other meats.

    • Does that mean you are on a list that gets a call when road kill is available for your to harvest?

      Next time I am in Alaska (probably next June) I will have to sample some moose meat!

  6. I worked as a deputy for decades. In Northern Indiana there is a list for road kill deer. If I didn’t get one in hunting season I too have got a road kill deer. The only advantage is you know it’s fresh within 20-30 minutes usually. You butcher it, throw away the bad part(s) and freeze the rest. You are correct if the person preparing it knows what they’re doing it’s very good lean meat. I understand the head thing too. I prepared a roast for a pot luck and had all kinds of comments about how good it was. I was asked to bring it. One who had just complimented me on it picked up a second piece but when one of the guys told him it was deer he put it down and wouldn’t take another bite. He had just told me how good it was.

  7. Gaye, I would love for you to come by and have Alaska Cuisine. Have you had hooligan? Consider this an invitation.

    Actually I was thinking about you yesterday. We took a walk through McHugh Creek and the Devils Club was growing next to the walk area. My husband reminded me to steer clear. I though of you and the article you wrote a year or so ago. I would send you some root but I
    don’t want to run the risk of getting nettled by those spines. They leave ugly infected areas. Very painful and hurtful to deal with. If you come by, however, I will gladly help you with shovel, pick, or machete.

    If you would like to have a group meeting (preparedness) that could be arranged as well.
    Thank you for advice (tried and true). 🙂

  8. P.S. Yes we are fortunate to be on a list. As far as I know there is app. 1,200. We do have a GO BAG for the harvest trip, ready to go at any moments notice.

  9. I live in the Midwest and my brother has a friend who has a tow truck service that got dispatched from the state police.
    When he went on call for deer vs car wrecks, he would call and let us know where it was, so after the accident reports were filled out ( the deer never carried their insurance cards with them….. too bad for the vehicle owner )
    We would load up the deer, while the tow truck driver loaded up the vehicle, and we would bring the deer back and process it. We would almost always have the cast iron skillet hot and ready to cook up the back straps before we finished cleaning the deer. I can’t even guess how many hundreds of pounds of meat we got over the years! Yum Yum.
    Also fyi,if you are really in a survival situation,if you see turkey buzzards eating road kill, go and get it from them. They will not eat rotten meat. If it is rotten or too old, they will leave it for the racoon’s, possum, or coyotes.

  10. National Geographic has a documentary series called Taboo. I saw an episode about a man who ate road kill. It was his primary source of protein. He lived, so its safe to do. It’s just icky.

  11. In Vermont, it pays to know your local warden. I simply asked that, if he acquired a reasonable road-killed deer during the cool season, would he let me know. About a year later he pops through the door to my shop, “You still want a deer?”
    “Yes, sir!”
    He delivered about 150 pounds of young buck, without a mark on him. After the required $15 tag fee, I started cutting up the carcase. My friend the meat cutter and I boned out a lot of good meat. It was mixed with half as much boneless pork shoulder and became some of the best sausage ever.

  12. Would you recommend a serious book for beginner teaching how to butcher small games – squirrels, rabbits, birds, etc. in the event of food shortage?
    Thank you. JB

  13. Except if there is a global famine and no food is coming down the pike, no gasoline will be coming down the pike either, which means nobody will be driving and unless somebody hits an animal with a bicycle, there won’t be any roadkill. Better off learning how to hunt with a rifle or crossbow.

  14. A good beginner’s book is “The Canning, Freezing, Curing & Smoking of Meat, Fish & Game by Wilbur F. Eastman, Jr.
    First published in 1975, I believe it is still available from Storey Books. (My copy was only $5.95)

  15. Hi Gaye,
    I’ve been eating road kill for over 30 years. Butchering, as one may think of it, doesn’t really pertain to harvesting road kill. You don’t want to use conventional methods because the animal was dispatched by a bumper, not a bleed-out knife. You need to release as much trapped blood as possible. Then the recovered meat is soaked in a very light brine to draw even more blood. Butchering, that is cutting the carcass into retail sections that might be seen in a meat case, just doesn’t happen to road kill.
    The key is to remove as much meat as possible, as quickly as possible. No bones. Just meat.
    I limit my road kill to venison. Little critters just are not practical. Mix 4-5 pounds of venison with 1 pound of low-cost bacon and grind for the best hamburg you might ever eat. Mix 2 pounds of venison with 1 pound of boneless pork shoulder, season appropriately, and you will have very good sausage.
    You might get lucky and cut out the backstraps, but for the most part this is a recovery mission, not a Saturday afternoon butchering of the family hog. Knowing how to butcher may be useful information, read “Cutting Up in the Kitchen.” Or a recent publication, “Basic Butchering of Livestock and Game.” Road kill is different. As Hawkeye Pierce used to say, “This is meatball surgery.”

  16. One thing that no one mentioned was butchering ‘road kill’ not for human consumption, but, for our animal companions. Hunting, herding or even a pack of ratters are very useful creatures that need to be fed. While you may not want to feed ‘road kill’ to your love ones as long as there is another option, it will provide much needed protein for your animals.

  17. Just wanted to let you know that Washington state actually just passed a law to make it legal to harvest roadkill. You must first acquire a free permit. After that it’s up to you.

    • actually, you can harvest first and then go online to the WA Dept of Fish and Wildlife website and fill out the form you can find there. No cost, no problem! I just did it yesterday, but when i tried to eat the liver it was terrible; it was full of blood. Deer was hit on one side – could that have caused the liver to be so firm and full of blood?

  18. Interesting!

    I always heard that you only needed chalk, a spatula and a buddy to harvest road kill.

    You’d walk up the road and put a chalk circle around anything you come across.
    Then, when you walk back down…if there was no chalk circle…it was fresh!
    Harvest with the spatula….

    OH…and the buddy…that is who you bring as a lookout so that you don’t become roadkill when you harvest 😉

    Good article…lots of good info!

  19. I appreciate everything that you had to say here about how to know whether or not to eat certain roadkill. Just like you said, the weather and climate of the area make a big difference because the meat will expire much quicker if it is warm outside. I cannot say that I have ever eaten roadkill because I usually call someone to come pick the animal up and dispose of it properly — maybe they eat it! Thanks for the post!

  20. why show photos of a fox and a beaver? These would not be tasty. The first because it is a carnivore and the second because it has musk.

  21. First I agree with almost everything except for your OPINION on field dressing it on the side of the road the quicker the better and only takes a minute plus the surrounding wildlife would have a meal too. It shouldn’t be illegal that’s just ignorant.

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