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Rend Lake deer

A pair of wary does scope out their surroundings at Rend Lake.

Earlier this month, the newspaper printed an exhaustive report on deer-vehicle collisions in Illinois, and how roadkill numbers play into management of the herd.

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, Illinois motorists hit 15,354 deer with their vehicles this past year, including more than 1,000 in deep Southern Illinois.

So, in case you wondered, here’s what you need to know about claiming roadkill deer if you’re daring enough to turn a bad day on the highway into a hot meal in the kitchen. Illinois is one of about 15 states that allows residents to claim roadkill deer and other animals killed on the roadways for food or fur.

Here’s a few things to keep in mind about the law.

If the driver who struck the deer is an Illinois resident, he or she has first right of refusal in claiming a deer killed or injured as a result of a collision with a motor vehicle, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

If the driver doesn’t want it, the deer becomes anyone’s game (if you’ll forgive the pun). That is, unless you’re behind on child support payments or live in another state.

INDR says that, according to the law, “any citizen of Illinois who is not delinquent in child support may possess and transport the deer.”

As of deadline, it was not clear to the newspaper why this caveat exists. Depriving parents behind on payments rights to roadkill hardly seems like much of an impetus to pay up, but that’s what the law states. It also says non-Illinois residents are not allowed to take roadkill from Illinois’s highways.

What’s more, if you strike a deer with your car and the deer is left seriously injured but not dead, it’s illegal to kill the deer yourself. In this situation, a call should be placed to the non-emergency line of the nearest law enforcement or Illinois conservation police office to put down the injured animal. The driver can still claim the deer, but it must be dispatched by law enforcement, said IDNR spokesman Chris Young.

Additionally, if you find a dead or crippled deer out than those hit by a vehicle or legally taken by hunting methods, you must first seek permission from a conservation police officer before taking any parts of the deer.

To discourage poaching, permission will be granted only if it is determined that the person requesting possession did not illegally kill or injure the deer, according to IDNR. Before you can take it, a conservation police officer will place irremovable tags on the head/antler and hide.

These tags must remain attached as long as the head/antler or hide remains in the green state, or while in a commercial manufacturing process.

Now, if you're not too grossed out yet, you may be wondering if roadkill deer is safe to eat. There’s not just an abundance of information readily available on the Internet to answer this question, but websites addressing the issue suggest that roadkill meat can be safe to eat in some circumstances. Your best bet for salvaging roadkill is if you witnessed the collision or hit the deer yourself, and you know the death is recent.

Even then, the way the deer is killed can factor into whether it’s worth processing. Blunt force trauma to the midsection of a deer can cause a rupturing of organs that taints the meat, and even what’s salvageable may be extremely tough if the deer did not die immediately upon impact.

If you seek to claim a deer and you’re unsure how long it’s been on the road, proceed with extreme caution, experts suggest. Cold winter months provide a little more leeway, but the deer should be closely examined before its claimed for food. Cloudy eyes generally suggests it’s been several hours since the deer died, and you should definitely walk away if there is discharge around the eyes or the eyes are gone. Dark blood that is nearly black is another sign the deer has been there for too long.

Finally, use the smell test. Like with any meat, if it has an offensive odor or activates the gag reflex, by all means, walk away.

If you do claim a roadkill deer for food, perhaps you're concerned about being associated with negative stereotypes. But keep this in mind. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) says that if people must eat animals, "roadkill is superior option to the neatly shrink-wrapped plastic packages of meat in the supermarket." PETA claims roadkill is healthier because it's free of hormones and growth stimulants, and is a more humane in that animals killed on the road — rather than those processed for mass production — were spared the slaughter line and perhaps didn't even know what hit them. 

While residents have been allowed to claim roadkill deer in Illinois for years, more recently, a law went into effect that applied to other fur-bearing mammals as well. Those who trap raccoons, opossum, mink, fox, coyote or other animals in order to sell the pelts may also claim those species from the roadway — but only in season and with the proper licenses.

Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, said she sponsored the bill in 2011 at the request of a constituent, who was at the time a conservation police officer. She hoped it would help those selling animal pelts, and also help the state and counties keep their roadways cleaner in a time of dwindling resources.

Over some snickering, the General Assembly overrode a veto of the measure by then-Gov. Pat Quinn, who said he was concerned people would be hit while scooping the roadkill from busy highways.

But in the three years since the law has been in effect, Hammond said she’s heard nothing but positive feedback both from those claiming the animals to make extra money, and from citizens who have told her the roadways appear to be a little cleaner.

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Molly.Parker@TheSouthern.com

618-351-5079

On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​

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Molly Parker is general assignment and investigative projects reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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