You’re roadtripping cross-country and somewhere around Montana you make out a figure off in the distance with that proverbial deer-in-headlights look. But this time it isn’t just proverbial, and suddenly there’s a bump and 150 pounds of warm meat in the middle of the road. Recent Montana legislature has attempted to paint a silver lining on this morbid situation. The New York Times reports that a new state law makes it legal for Montanans to take home any slaughtered animal they come across in their path. It may be bad news for the deer, but it could mean dinner for a month.
“If someone has suffered damage to their vehicle, why not let them use that animal for some food?” said State Representative Steve Lavin.
There are some restrictions. You must obtain a permit from a peace officer within 24 hours of the "killing" — and you must take the entire animal. This is to say the state government is trying to avoid a hit-butcher-and-run situation.
The legislature puts Montana in a category with a handful of other states permitting this sort of wild game take-out. Georgia allows people to bring home dead bears and other animals if they alert a law enforcement official or state wildlife conservation officer, and Colorado allows taking home roadkill with the permission of the state's Division of Park and Wildlife. But Montana's expansive new law will go into effect in November.
Urbanites may dismiss the news as only affecting country folk equipped with skinning knives and an impressive collection of coon-tail hats. After all, the only kind of street food the city-slickers eat comes out of a halal truck, right?
It turns out there might be wild game fit for eating in cities, too. Last summer, the Chicago Reader reported the eastern grey squirrel is making a comeback as a nutritious and practical source of protein. Author Mike Sula voiced concern with the diet of the typical city squirrel often seen foraging through trash cans, but he ultimately deemed it safe and "source[d] a steady, humanely killed supply of city squirrels," tossed the meat in a pot with vegetables, herbs, beans and tree nuts and made a stew called "burgoo."
The New York Post also told the story of the Sportsman Channel's MeatEater host Steven Rinella, who regularly hunts pigeons and squirrels in his Brooklyn backyard. [Disclosure: Rinella's show is produced by Zero Point Zero, the parent company of Food Republic.] The article includes Rinella's recipe for Lemon Thyme Squirrel — once you get past the first step of removing entrials and "snip[ping] the squirrel up the spine," the recipe takes on a familiar, appetizing tone: "With a mortar and pestle, mash coarse salt, fresh thyme and garlic into a pulp," it reads. "Add olive oil and lemon juice to taste."
So next time you witness an unfortunate vehicle/beast encounter on a country road or feel hunger pangs while walking the perimeter of your local city park, perhaps it's not so crazy to start thinking about your next meal.