Winter in Montana. Snow, sun, slippery highways and road-kill…lots of road-kill. On the move in search of something to eat, mule and whitetail deer don’t pay enough heed to traffic. There’s obviously no jaywalker education in the ungulate world, or perhaps young deer pay as little attention to it as youthful humans do to driver education. Unfortunately for the poorly educated among the hoofed highway-crossers, there are no airbags attached to the bumper of a Ford 3/4 ton pickup, let alone the front end of a whizzing Honda. Cross the streets of Billings without the protection of a crosswalk and you’ll probably get a sound cussing from local motorists. Cross a busy highway at random locations and you’re likely to end up in the ditch or stagger into a nearby field as road-kill, even if you’re as fast as a deer.
From the point of view of the whitetail or the driver whose sleek Lexus is now crumpled and splattered with blood, road-kill is one of the exceedingly regrettable byproducts of modern transportation. However, other creatures surely must be rooting more loudly for the cars than the critters. I’ve yet to see a coyote turn down a meal of fresh venison on the premise of sympathy for fellow wildlife. Ravens, magpies, bald and golden eagles, foxes and mongrel dogs are also among the many creatures that delightedly dine on road-kill.
While I’ve never sunk my teeth into the tenderized hindquarters of a buck who couldn’t dodge a truck, I’m afraid I also count among the vultures. Many a winter hour has found me parked alongside the highway, binoculars trained on the carcass of a dead deer, finding guilty pleasure in road-kill. Bald eagles (and sometimes golden eagles) of all ages flock to car-killed cervids like buzzards, and I like to compare their plumage in an attempt to discern their age. Some of the best coyote photos I’ve ever taken were near a carcass, the casualty of a car.
Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t go around looking for panicked creatures to run over in an SUV with a grille-guard. In 33 years as a Montana driver, I’ve only hit one deer. But in a world that frequently gets a little too crazy to contemplate, it’s nice to know that even road-kill has its rewards.