Scavenger’s Helper

Note: the following post deals with the topic of roadkill recycling and contains images of a freshly skinned deer hide and deer meat

On February 9th I had my first Turkey vulture sighting of 2022 while driving down rt. 20 through Chautauqua county. I saw two more on March 1st while sloshing over soggy, half frozen ground of the power line right-of-way running parallel to I-90. We were both there on common purpose; scanning for carcasses.

I didn’t find anything on that particular outing, but the season is just starting. At home I had two other projects started.

The week prior, while out checking on the skeleton of a 5 point buck that got hit on one of my regular walking routes last December, I found the body of a young doe that had perished more recently.

Vehicles hit wildlife all the time. It’s a sad fact of life, but animals that meet this fate should be moved off to the side, preferably into the grass/woods where local wildlife can feed undisturbed and where uneaten remains can return back to the earth. A road killed deer is a bounty for the cleanup critters. Crows, vultures, raptors, coyotes, foxes, opossums, and more. But Unfortunately, many of these important species get struck themselves while attempting to feed. Moving the carcass away from the pavement can minimize this.

The decomposition process is integral to life on earth. Very living thing will eventually die, and nature is very good at breaking down the formerly living into their basic building blocks for repurposing.

When the weather warms, insects like flies and beetles will lay eggs and the resulting larvae clean the bones further. Insect biomass feeds many more species, especially birds! Even the old bones become a resource node for critters craving calcium. Squirrels, porcupines and other rodents love to gnaw on deer bones or antler to wear their ever-growing teeth down, but also as a source of nutrients. Snails, who require calcium to maintain their shells, can often be found rasping on old skeletons. I’ve even found wooly bear cocoons (Pyrrharctia Isabella) nestled inside an old deer skull to ride out the winter. Over many years, rainwater and acids in the soil will disintegrate the bones completely, returning minerals to the soil, feeding the plants and renewing the cycle of life.

Removing the hide helps accelerate the decomposition process and the local critters access the meat faster. This doe was still fresh enough for my standards, but with the tools I had, I wasn’t prepared to butcher the whole animal, so I left most of the carcass for the local fauna.

I did take the forelimbs though! Delicious Beer-braised venison shoulders and rich bone broth kept the house fed for a while! Over the course of about 4 days, enjoyed many meals of venison tacos and chili

…it’s the slow cooker for you two
After the meat is pulled from the bones, I boiled them a second time to make a rich broth. I also added some nutritious dried stinging nettles from my garden.

Deer hide is a valuable resource to humans, but the other animals don’t use it. Rather than allow the hide to rot, I take it home for processing.

I use preserved animal skins in my artwork. One of the things I like to experiment with is natural tanning. The actual tanning process is a topic for another entry. In the meantime, drying out the hide will help it stay preserved until I have time to finish it.

The hide is stretched across a pallet and any remaining meat, fat or membrane is peeled off. Stretching keeps the hide taut while working on it and also helps to break up tough skin fibers that would otherwise shrink up as the hide dries. Breaking up these fibers results in a softer finished leather.

Part way through the scraping process. Remaining flesh must be removed from the hide to facilitate better drying and to prevent rot.

When it’s all dry we have a rawhide! The rawhide will keep for a very long time, so long as it stays dry. Tanning is a whole ‘nother process. No time for it presently, but expect a post on it to follow. For those curious about how it’s done, I learned much about tanning from this site:

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