Solon resident David Eder was driving in Oakwood, Ohio, near Dayton, with a couple of friends when they came upon a deer that had been hit by another vehicle. It was still alive, but its injuries proved fatal, and the animal died as the young men watched.
What to do? Eder’s crowd decided to keep the deer for themselves. That’s legal in Ohio, where state law dictates that not only drivers, but another person may take possession of roadkill deer as long as they report the accident to a wildlife officer or other law enforcement officer within 24 hours.
The officer presented Eder with the required deer carcass tag, and the young men got the deer home. It was time to work.
“It seemed a shame to let it go to waste. It took us a couple hours, but we cleaned it, skinned it, butchered it, and everything, and eventually we ate it,” Eder said.
YouTube tutorials assisted the trio in “learning on the fly,” he said. “It can be time consuming to some people, and some people might not have the stomach for it. I’m fine with it, but I can understand it not being for everyone.”
Intrigued, and wanting more deer, Eder contacted area police departments to ask if they kept lists of people willing to take roadkill deer. Turns out many do. Eder is on 22 lists across Cuyahoga, Geauga, Summit and Portage counties, and he’s hoping to be added to more.
So far Eder’s take since the first experience in 2020 tallies at three, one in Oakwood, one in Geauga County, and one in Solon. No surprise that his family asked him what he thought he was doing with all those deer.
“I’m going to eat them, hopefully get better at leather working, make boots, mittens, and all that,” he told them. “I don’t want to let it go to waste. I want to feed myself, my family, and I want to get involved with FHFH to provide for people who are hungry in the community.”
That last goal might be a challenge. FHFH, short for Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, is a national nonprofit that works only with approved meat processors across the country to feed the needy in local communities.
Executive Director Josh Wilson said his processors, including Duma Deer Processing in Mogadore, have told him roadkill deer meat is more likely to be spoiled, that impact damage often reduces the amount of usable meat that can be salvaged, and that the quality or taste of the meat can be affected, perhaps from adrenaline that courses through the animal’s body when it is struck.
At any rate, Wilson said, FHFH would never accept meat from a home processor. Folks such as Eder would be better off contacting local food pantries directly to offer the meat, if they would take it, he advised.
Art’s Deer Processing in Ravenna will process and package roadkill deer for a fee. The deer needs to be field dressed, or gutted, before he will accept it, “and it doesn’t hurt to put a couple small bags of ice in them until they can get it to a processor,” owner Art Yost said.
Yost accepts calls at any time of the day or night, but he requests that people call ahead of time instead of just dropping the carcass off on his doorstep.
Should anyone try to emulate Eber and process the deer themselves, they should be aware that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources forbids throwing the offal and bones in the neighbor’s yard or back woods. It must be put in the garbage so the usual trash hauler can remove it to an approved landfill.
“If that deer had any issues with chronic wasting disease or some other stuff that’s out there, they don’t want other animals to get into it and spread it across the state,” Yost said.
Even if a deer had CWD or some other disease, it would still be safe to eat, Yost said. The only thing that would stop him from processing a deer would be if it had an “off” odor to it, usually the result of having been left too long without being properly gutted and cooled.
People with questions about CWD or other issues with deer should contact the ODNR at 614-265-6565 or visit ohiodnr.gov, he advised.
Portage County’s roadkill call lists
In Portage County, what happens to roadkill deer largely depends on where the accident happens.
Streetsboro police maintain a list of people willing to come at any time of the day or night to claim the carcass. Since the registry only contains two names, the Streetsboro Police Department is putting out feelers to see if anyone wishes to be added.
The person must meet the officer on the scene to receive a free ODNR Deer Tag. From there, the resident is responsible for processing the deer or taking it elsewhere to be processed. Some people like to field dress the deer before loading the carcass into their truck, but it’s got to be within reason, Lt. Richard Polivka said.
“I wouldn’t want them to field dress it there on the roadside,” he said.
Streetsboro police logged 40 deer crashes last year, but not all of them resulted in known deer deaths.
“That does not mean the deer remained on scene. Some of those crashes, the deer might have just been injured or left,” Polivka said.
To be added to SPD’s list, call the station at 330-626-4976.
Once notified, the potential recipient would have to be willing to come out on notice. That, say ODNR officials, is because the “safe” window of opportunity for salvaging roadkill deer meat is quite narrow, especially in warm weather.
People who do not answer their phone or who cannot arrive immediately are not given a second chance. Their name drops to the bottom of the list, and police call the next person, Polivka said.
“If they don’t want the deer it can be given to someone else or to a charity,” he said.
Streetsboro police aren’t the only law enforcement agency taking names.
Garrettsville police keep a list, but with the village only encompassing 2.5 square miles, deer-vehicle accidents are not too common, Sgt. Keith Whan said.
Most accidents occur in the surrounding townships, where the Ohio State Highway Patrol or sheriff’s deputies would respond, he said.
Even so, to be added to the GPD’s list, residents may call the station at 330-527-5631.
Aurora police maintain a list that now has about a half dozen names. Residents who wish to be added to the list should call the APD at 330-562-8181. Unclaimed deer are handled by the city service department, which disposes of the carcasses.
Brimfield police officer Robert Putnam estimates the township has 12-15 motor vehicle accidents a year that result in deer fatalities. Though it currently consists of only a few names, BPD maintains a list of people willing to take the deer. Anyone wishing to be added to the list should contact BPD at 330-673-7716.
BPD alerts the township road crew or ODOT to remove unclaimed deer, but it doesn’t always happen.
“Sometimes they lay there and mother nature takes its course,” Putnam admitted.
Ron Fields, administrative assistant with the Ravenna Police Department, said the city does not keep a list. A hunter himself, Fields said there is often nothing suitable to process when a deer is hit.
Since 2020, Ravenna police have responded to fewer than 10 accidents that resulted in the death of a deer, Fields said. In almost each case, the motorist or someone who can immediately respond claims the carcass.
Even low-speed accidents usually result in abdominal damage to the deer, rendering the meat worthless. That’s because stomach acid taints the meat, he explained.
But Yost says not every torso wound ruins the meat.
“As long as it is gutted within a short period of time after it is killed, there should be nothing wrong with it,” he said, noting that he would turn down deer that have suffered obvious and extensive torso damage.
“If they go to it and it’s all mangled and it’s all twisted, I would just avoid it. They have people who pick it up and take it to a spot where they can dispose of it,” Yost advised.
City police have rarely, if ever, been left with an unclaimed deer, but if they would be, a simple call to Ravenna’s road department would result in removal, Fields said by way of confirmation.
Nor does the Ohio State Highway Patrol maintain a list. When a deer is struck and killed on a state road and the motorist chooses not to claim it, troopers follow standard procedure by calling ODOT to remove the carcass.
Mantua police, responsible for patrolling a 1.42 square mile village, also do not maintain a list.
The last such accident occurred five years ago, Mayor Linda Clark said. If another fatality were to happen, the driver could take the deer if it was safe to do so, she said.
Hiram police, responsible for just under a square mile of property, rely on the Portage County Sheriff’s Office to contact people willing to claim deer killed in motor vehicle accidents. Most happen outside the village’s borders, on state roads that are under ODOT’s jurisdiction, Hiram Police Chief Brian Gregory said.
“The ones that are in the village, we usually take care of ourselves. If we can’t find a person to pick up the carcass, usually we have Amish people driving through all the time, and they’ll be more than happy to take the carcasses. If not, our street department would take care of it,” Gregory said.
The Portage County Sheriff’s Office handles deer disposal in its own way. Keep an eye out for sign-up info on the PCSO’s Facebook page. When the list is created, people will receive automated phone calls asking them if they are interested in free, on-the-spot venison.
Not that it happens often.
“Usually by the time we get down there the deer is pretty well mangled up on 55 mph roads,” Chief Deputy Ralph Spidalieri said, noting that if the deer is “usable,” the driver usually takes it.
Neither Kent nor Windham police responded to The Portager’s request for information regarding deer-motor vehicle accidents.