The Roadkill Grill

By Bob Robb

I started eating roadkill long before it was cool. 

Before you lock the doors and hide the little ones, hear me out. It began back in the 1970s when, as a semi-starving college student in Sacramento, a fat rooster pheasant made the mistake of attacking my beater truck’s grill while I was making some time along a rural road. I wanted the feathers for tying flies, but when I picked up the still-warm bird I remember thinking, “Who would ever know?” It wasn’t pheasant under glass, but it beat the hell out of dumpster diving, another frowned-upon activity for which I had developed some talent. 

Back in those days it was illegal as hell to pick up roadkill of any kind. I guess the state game departments thought poachers would begin using F-150’s as their tool of choice, or something. And then there were the health department Nazis, trying to save us all from ourselves. But as the years went by and I started traveling the country hunting anything that wiggled, I began peeking under the tent flaps of an underground movement of roadkill aficionados. There were lots of them, most living in the backwoods, their incomes a meager stream of government checks, moonshine money, and the occasional odd job, their food coming from a little garden, a chicken coop, trot lines, and animals of all shapes and sizes that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, regardless of season. 

Over the years my thing for fresh roadkill continued as a sort of one-man underground movement against wasting perfectly good protein. And in my early years of bowhunting, what with the primitive compound bows and related gear we used and my lack of both patience and skill as a shooter, about the only way I was going dine on venison was to stumble across an unlucky deer that had the misfortune of trying to cross the road at the wrong time. 

One of the most memorable was the whitetail doe that committed suicide in a mid-November snowstorm in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Driving to hunting camp on a slicker-than-snot mountain two track, the deer appeared on the ridge above my truck, and for some reason decided to charge down the slope and try to beat me to the crossing. Hitting the brakes risked sliding off the mountain, so I took my foot off the gas and watched in horror as the deer tried to leap over the hood. She didn’t make it, crashing into the windshield and breaking her neck. No doe tag? Whatever. She fed us for five days. 

Now, you might think collecting roadkill is like a game of chance, the dice coming up 7, filling an inside straight. Not for Tickle, a backwoods dude my friend Bobby Wall introduced me to back in the early ‘80s.  

Born in the early 1920’s in rural Tennessee and raised in a shack with no power or plumbing, Tickle spent his formative years away from home doing the jungle boogie with the Marine Corps as they fought their way against the Japanese up the island chain in WWII. When he got home he went back to the woods and avoided people as much as possible. Tickle had a knack for mechanicing, a taste for wild meat and fish, and disdain for the law; to help him meld the three, he welded an oversized steel grate to the front bumper of his old pickup and jury-rigged a big light to the driver’s side mirror. You can see where this is heading, right?  

When a critter got that “deer in the headlights” look he hit the gas, not the brakes.  

Tickle took me on my very first wild turkey hunt–an eye-opening adventure in and of itself–and told me we were going to roost some birds for the morning hunt. That we did, but instead of heading for his cabin straightaway, we took a little backroads detour. When the headlights lit up a deer crossing the road at 50 yards, Tickle downshifted and hit the gas like Richard Petty on the home stretch. Did I mention the rig didn’t have seatbelts? I damn near went through the windshield. I also got a lesson in how to field-strip a road-killed deer in under five minutes. 

She ate really good. 

Times have changed, as they always do, and now roadkill has become sort of haute couture in hipster food circles. It’s now legal to salvage and consume roadkill in 30 states, though of course there are confusing rules and regulations. In 2022, Wyoming even introduced a new feature in the Wyoming 511 Mobile App that allows you to apply for authorization to collect roadkill and/or report wildlife collisions. When I lived in the Anchorage, Alaska bowl, there were something like 250 moose/vehicle collisions every year. I was on call with some buddies to come and move the dead moose off the roadway and butcher the carcass, delivering the meat to a local food bank. Except the backstraps, which I surreptitiously kept as payment for services rendered, often in blizzard conditions. Even that kook/atheist/philosopher Peter Singer and the whack-jobs at PETA—the only thing we have in common is breathing oxygen—support using roadkill for food. According to PETA, “If people must eat animal carcasses, roadkill is a superior option to the neatly shrink-wrapped plastic packages of meat in the supermarket.” 

Now, I’m thinking of writing a Roadkill Recipes cookbook. Who knows, maybe I can get PETA to promote it.

From the FE Films Archive

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