Should You Eat Roadkill? 8 Important Rules to Consider First

Jodie Weston Jodie Weston  |  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.

Disgusting?

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:

  • Tarp
  • Surgical gloves

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.

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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!
Gaye

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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. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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.”

  7. 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)

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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.

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