So, this week I ran up to my dad’s up in Crockett, Texas. He has a farm where he raises quail and chicken and rescues the odd abandoned Whitetail fawn (yes, he’s registered). On my way up I noticed two very large deer, either does or antlerless bucks, dead on the side of the road, on the way home today I saw another. One assumes, and I think it is a logical assumption, that these deer lying on the side of the road were victims of being struck – or of striking – a vehicle of some sort. It got me to thinking about what a crying shame such waste of a beautiful, useful and tasty animal is. I mean, it’s not like this is some squirrel or skunk that gets squished under your tires, or even a large dog you clip with your bumper and just shrug your shoulders and keep driving – by the way…if you are the type of person who runs over a dog and doesn’t stop…you are utter scum. No, these are large, potentially 150-200 or even in the case of a large buck, 300 pound animals, if you hit one, even a glancing blow, you are almost certainly at least are going to pull over, return to the scene and probably get pictures for your insurance company because your car now screwed up.
So this is a large animal. It is also a lot of meat. Meat that can, if prevented from spoiling, feed a fairly large number of people. A good sized adult Whitetail will dress out in the 140 – 160 pound range (that 300 pounder will of course be more…but let’s talk averages here). A family of four – parents, two kids of average age – will need 8-10 pounds of meat a week. That means a single doe, dressed out to 140 lbs will feed a family of four for 14-17 weeks. Alternatively, that same doe will feed 14-17 families of four for one week….. However you want to work it. As a lean, protein rich meat, it is better for you than just about anything you can buy in the stores today.
Additionally, even though venison is rarely seen in the commercial market, Whitetail venison does have a market value in the gourmet meats market. What that value is depends on a number of factors – the cut of the meat (just like beef, a venison tenderloin is valued higher than say, venison stew meat or ground venison), availability, state regulations, etc. That value can range between $9.00 – $22.00 lb. or more. The total market value of our 140 lb. dressed doe depends largely on how it is processed, if you turn it all into ground venison, you’re looking at a value of a little over $1200.00. Most people won’t want to turn the entire deer into hamburger, which means that the $1200.00 is a starting figure.
What this all means is that THIS WEEK ALONE, I have seen enough meat to feed 42-61 families for one week, or a single family for either just under, or just over a year. That same meat is worth at least $3600.00 (we aren’t even discussing the value of the pelt, of the bones, the organs, the horns, the hoofs, etc.) Sadly, that meat – which can do so much good – was rotting by the side of the road for the scavengers. I hate that. It’s wasteful and really kind of stupid. But what can you really do about it here in Texas. Turns out, you can do some, but not much.
The questions that I want to answer are these;
- If a person accidentally – and accidentally is key here – hits a deer, what should they do?
- When they do that, what happens to the deer?
- If you snag up Bambi without following the law, what are the potential consequences?
So… you’re driving home, late one night, on a back country road and a Whitetail bounds out in front of your car… boom, you peg her. What do you need to do?
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPDW) website has this to say about the topic.
“If the deer is just injured call your local game warden dispatcher. If you are absolutely sure the deer is dead, you may move it off the roadway and leave it there. Texas Department of Transportation will remove the dead animal. It is illegal to tag the deer (or any game animal for that matter) and take it with you.”
Well that’s all good and fine, but I actually think that their write up creates as many questions as it answers. So let’s get into this scenario a bit.
Many believe that if the animal is dead, the person who struck it gets first dibs on the deer! In many states this appears to be true. As late as 2005 the TPWD released a news release saying that often, the responding game warden would make a determination at the scene. It was not unusual for the person who hit the deer to wind up with it. However, today, I’m afraid that seems to have changed and now, in Texas it is unlawful to possess a deer or any part of a deer that has been hit by a motor vehicle. What does happen, sometimes, but clearly not all the time is that the deer may be donated by the Game Warden or TPWD to orphanages, group homes, prisons, etc. In the case of the Tyler, Texas region, struck animals often go to Tiger Creek, a big cat rescue facility. Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies, including our amazing game wardens in Texas, have more than enough to do without having to collect every deer that gets pegged in this state – There are, about 1.5 million auto deer collisions per year, I cannot find a breakdown by state, but Texas ranks 9th for number of deer v. vehicle accidents. That means that what happens more often than not is that the animal is merely left on the side of the road to rot.
I personally think this is a tad bit silly. Not to deny the tiger’s and lions their fair share of venison, I’m happy to share with them. But, if say, you hit a deer, or I hit a deer, we know that animal is still fresh and has not begun to decompose. We know from inspecting it that the animal has not been damaged internally in a way which spreads toxins throughout the flesh – and this can happen with an animal struck by a vehicle. We know, usually from personal experience that the animal is simply a fresh kill and that a fresh kill is a fresh kill whether done with a bullet or a Buick. I honestly think that, if the game warden isn’t going to show, or doesn’t want to take possession of the animal (and I have no problems with TPWD having first dibs), then I should be able to claim that animal, in season or out of season as long as it is obvious that I wasn’t intentionally trying to hunt animals with my car. However, and I want to be very clear about this, are you listening? Good. THIS is just my opinion. As I’ve stated already, in Texas it is unlawful to possess a deer or any part of a deer that has been hit by a motor vehicle. And while I may think the law is a bad law, it is still the law. I may even violate it someday should the opportunity present itself. I hope it doesn’t, I simply don’t want the hassle. But if my car is cracked up by some blasted Whitetail, then the least the State of Texas could do is let me fill my fridge with tasty, tasty venison! If you violate the law in Texas, then it’s your own damned fault. Don’t come crying to me because you read my criticism of the law and for some reason had a logical disconnect and thought that in some way I gave you permission to break it. I didn’t. I do not have the authority to do so. I don’t care if you do break the law in this manner, just don’t blame me for your own actions.
Let’s be clear, I’m not suggesting that anyone go out and scavenge roadkill. I know there are people who do so, but the idea grosses me out beyond imagining. That deer that’s been sitting in the Texas sun for even a few hours… let’s just pass that one on by. If you didn’t hit that animal yourself, or see it hit and watch it die… you eat that at your own peril.
What should you do if the deer you hit is wounded and hurting? You felt the thud, you pulled over, and the doe is lying on the ground, her back broken and she’s flailing and screaming – yes, deer scream. Well, I know what I’d do. But what should you do? Well, I can’t answer that. Only YOU can answer that. There are numerous considerations though. Approaching a wounded animal is a dangerous thing. A deer, even severely injured can turn and severely injure – or kill – you. If you do not know what you’re doing, call the police, the sheriff, or the local game warden and let them deal with it. A lot of us Texans carry firearms, I know I do. So should you pull out your pistol, or rifle or shotgun or whatever and shoot the deer to put it out of its misery? That seems like the right thing to do, right? Well, maybe not. Are you going to shoot into concrete? Maybe get a ricochet? Maybe into a passing motorist? Additionally, with certain exceptions, discharging a firearm on a public road is a crime in Texas – Texas Penal Code § 42.01. DISORDERLY CONDUCT. (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly: (9) discharges a firearm on or across a public road. It is a class C misdemeanor, which means you can be fined up to $500.00 (Title 3, Sec. 12.23 of the Texas Penal Code)* This, I think is clearly a case of knowing one’s own limitations and being a responsible gun owner. In my case, I will put an animal out of its misery and let the chips fall where they may. It is against my personal faith, and my upbringing to allow an animal to suffer when it is clear nothing can be done for it. But I will dispatch that animal in safe and sane manner. I also have decades of experience using firearms, you may not. What I would tell the average, less familiar person to do is just exactly what the TPWD tells you to do. Call local law enforcement. The dispatcher will guide you. More than likely they will contact the local game warden, who will come out and make a decision. But if that animal is in the middle of the freeway at night thrashing around, you may have to take action just to prevent a more serious accident! Every situation is different, and it is something to think about.
So, let’s say you’ve hit the deer, put the deer out of its misery and in all this, never called the local LEO’s or game wardens. You put that deer in the back of your truck, or in the trunk or in the back seat and start heading for the house. You get a bit down the road and you look behind you and see that fella in the big green truck pulling up on your bumper. What happens next… well, it won’t be fun, that’s for sure! Well, first, that deer is gone. Sorry, too bad so sad. But they don’t let poachers; even accidental poachers keep their catch in Texas. Next, there are criminal penalties, certainly a fine, probably probation and possibly jail time. Next, there is civil restitution. You will be required to pay the TPWD the value of the deer. This alone ranges from $500.00-$4000.00! Next, any weapons in the car are confiscated, gone. It is even possible the vehicle itself will be confiscated. There are plenty of websites out there that discuss fines and sentences related to poaching cases, I recommend that before you take your deer home, you read a few of those. You may decide it just ain’t worth it.
One other thing, there are all sorts of ancillary myths surrounding this sort of thing. Let me dispel one of the more pervasive ones right quick. Some people believe that you can make a claim through the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife and the state will pay your insurance deductible…well, as nice as that would be, it’s simply not true. Sorry. I personally can’t believe anyone would believe that to begin with, but apparently they do. Stop it!
By the way, hitting a deer at any amount of speed is a bad idea. If you can safely avoid the animal, then by all means, you should endeavor to do so. If the choice is between hitting the deer and hitting the oncoming septic truck…take the deer out. But be aware that deer strikes kill and injure not only the deer, but very often the drivers as well. In 2000, deer-vehicle collisions lead to about 200 human deaths and $1.1 billion in property damage, and that appears to be about average for that sort of thing. If you’re a biker…well…do I really need to address that? I myself have nearly been pegged by a buck bolting in front of me on my way to Austin on the V-Star in the wee hours of the morning out in West Montgomery County. We are talking high pucker factor, man!
I think, in the end, we should all work to change the law so that these animals do not go to waste. There are plenty of places in this country where the option to take possession of the dead animal exists, I can find no real reason that it should be the same here in Texas. In the meantime, we should also endeavor to be more aware of the dangers of hitting them in the first place and avoid doing so if at all possible.
*Let’s be clear, I am NOT an attorney, I do NOT practice law and I do not play one on TV. I am a researcher and an opinionated S.O.B. I know how to look these things up and I will express MY opinion on these topics on MY blog. MY opinion may differ from what is considered legal canon in the State of Texas. If you take anything I write on this blog as legal advice, then I don’t even think there is a level of stupidity out there to describe you. So don’t do it. If you do, then, once again, don’t come whining to me when you find your ass in a sling. IF you want legal advice, find an attorney. Just look in the yellow pages, or the internet, or the State Bar website for A.T.T.O.R.N.E.Y. There are, according to the Bar website, more than 89,900 active members of the State Bar of Texas – I am NOT one of them.
One other thing, I mentioned Tiger Creek out in Tyler, Texas. It is a great facility that is doing wonderful work for animals that we as human beings have let down. http://www.tigercreek.org/. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit; I also recommend adopting a big cat or simply donating to the cause.