Turning Roadkill into Dinner

By Rachelle

“I have a roadkill deer,” read the early-afternoon text message from my husband. “Call around for processing.”

Without exhausting much effort, I learned the butcher shop in town was still accepting deer for processing into neatly packaged steak, roasts and hamburger. After passing the information, including the cost of services, along to Scott, my phone dinged with another message.

“Expensive,” it read. “It’s so small, I’m considering doing it myself… maybe I’ll try it.” “Dealer’s choice” was my reply. Little did I know that I would soon be getting a crash course in DIY meat in the freezer.

I must say, before going on this recent adventure exploring hunting and providing food for my family without relying on grocery stores, I didn’t think twice when I would see a deer lying on the side of the road. There was the usual thought of such a shame to see such an elegant animal, snuffed out in it’s prime, just left to rot without proper burial. Sometimes, adding insult to injury, road crews would drive by marking each carcass for pickup with bright pink spray paint.

Now, the first thought that crosses my mind when spotting a deer who has had the misfortune to encounter the business end of a bumper, is it’s a shame to see such good food go to waste.

Earlier in the day last week, while Scott was working, a doe was struck by a car breaking it’s leg. A police officer was called in to end the animal’s suffering, however, no one wanted to claim it. Scott, who had only just recently commented on the “dangerously” low levels of venison in our freezer, jumped at the chance.

A little after 10:30 that night, Scott’s truck rolled into the driveway carrying the cargo in the back. As this was a bit of a surprise adventure, we didn’t have any kind of pulley system in place, so the act of hoisting the deer into a backyard tree, was quite the experience. Muscles worked in the below zero temps as we fought against boots slipping on slick snow and fingers freezing in the night air… it only took two, three, four… attempts before the rig we hooked up took hold and the deer was finally in place and ready for skinning and cleaning.

I graciously let Scott handle the dirty work, but I watched in amazement as he delicately peeled the deer’s hide from it’s body. Quite frankly, I thought skin would be more difficult to remove, whether that is a testament to the sharpness of Scott’s knife, his skill, or a disturbing body design flaw, who’s to say.

Next came the gutting… in my 30 years on this planet, I’ve never been privy to this part of the process. At first, I thought this was probably a good thing, however when the smell first slapped me in the face, and lingered in my nose for days to come, I was somewhat envious of hunters who grew up doing this sort of thing. Scott was barely phased. His expression remained one of determination… that is until he caught a glimpse of what I’m sure was a look of shock, horror and fascination, on my face, and he would laugh.

Every time an unrestrained “ick” escaped my lips, he would simply say, “it has to be done. Would you rather it goes to waste?” I carried on, helped where I could and followed directions.

In the end, it wasn’t that bad. However, I still can’t imagine myself being out in the woods with a cleanly-killed doe on opening day, alone. Just me, the doe, and my knife. No matter how many videos I watch online, or forums I read, I don’t think anything can prepare you for what happens between the kill and the dinner table until you’re there to see it first hand. So, at least I have my first experience encountering the innards of a deer checked off my “to do” list. I only hope that when the day comes where I’ve gotten my first deer, Scott is there to provide a guiding hand.

Lucky for us, not so lucky for those kiddies who walk to school, temperatures in Wisconsin were below freezing so we were able to let our prize hang for the next couple days. In the meantime, I again turned to YouTube for helpful tutorials for butchering a deer yourself. The videos made it look easy, almost too easy… filled with an unhealthy sense of “hell yeah, we can do this”, Saturday morning we headed outside with our knifes, hatchet, saw, gloves and went to work.

Looking at, what still resembled Bambi’s mother, hanging in front of me, I completely forgot everything I learned from the videos. Our deer was hanging at a different angle than the ones I saw online, not to mention it’s right back leg was almost non-existent thanks to the accident.

Modern technology is a wondrous thing. I pulled a video up on my phone and did my best to relay the information to Scott, who, as detail oriented as he can be, doesn’t seem to possess the patience required to produce butcher-shop quality cuts. (Not that I would be much better, however, my turn at the knife did result in a cleaner cut shoulder than Scott’s attempt. But who’s keeping score?)

As we continued forward, I was amazed at the speed in which something can go from a distinguished animal to indistinguishable meat segments. Even more so as I continued in the kitchen breaking the larger pieces of backstraps, round and shanks into steaks, roasts and stew meat.

During this process, I discovered two things. One, I seriously need to invest in a quality boning knife. And two, I got the same sense of pride from cutting, wrapping and storing this venison, as I get from picking fresh vegetables in my from-seed garden for dinner.

After experiencing the unpleasantness that was the cleaning process, I could easily imagine myself turning down the vegetarian road, that is until I remembered how tasty a perfectly seared steak tastes… All I find myself thinking now, while removing venison chops from the freezer to become that night’s dinner, is that this 20-plus pounds of meat would have went to waste on the side of the road and instead can feed my family.

Roadkill never tasted so good.