Big Sky Barbecue

Emily Harris's picture

I had arrived in Bozeman just hours before, fresh off I-90 from Chicago. In my first evening as a Montanan, I had eaten a bison burger, sampled microbrews from Bozeman Brewing Company, and was now headed to Gallatin Gateway to the cabin I'd be living in all winter. 

Enter the deer. The doe had tried to cross Hwy. 191, been hit by a passing car, and was now lying in the middle of the road with a broken back. Xena* pulled her truck over, whipped out a hunting knife the size of my forearm, and climbed out of the cab, telling me she was going to ensure the deer wasn't still alive. I followed Xena over to the deer and thought a few kind words for her, then turned towards the truck, eager to get home and curl up with a book.

That was not to be the case. Before I knew it, I was helping Xena load the deer into the back of the truck. We sped back to the cabin with our booty, me beginning to understand that harvesting roadkill was something folks out here indulged in. It still hadn’t quite hit me that Xena and I were going to be spending the night in her shed butchering this animal. If I had been in Chicago, I would have been out having a martini with friends before taking a taxi home on well-plowed, civilized streets.

Always one for new experiences—especially after several beers—I was ready to embrace the fact that I was now a Montanan, and I grabbed a knife the size of my own forearm and dove in. Hours later, no longer giddy from the beer, I was encased in frozen blood up to my elbows, and unable to feel the hand-shaped ice blocks at the ends of my arms. My flats and leggings, so trendy in Chicago, were now covered in congealed deer blood. But I was Woman, I knew what a backstrap was, and I had butchered my first deer.

This coming-of-age experience was made possible by a new law that went into effect this past October. Montana lawmakers voted to allow salvage of roadkill, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “kill it and grill it.” The law specifically allows for salvaging of elk, moose, deer, and antelope. The law is restricted to these four animals to offset any financial incentive to intentionally hit other, cuter animals such as sheep, bobcats, and bears. Considering that until a few years ago, you could legally dabble in drinking and driving in Montana, it seems natural to now be able to scrape a dead deer off the road and turn it into a meal. In recent years, over 7,000 carcasses have been collected from Montana roadsides, so this bill can give waste-concerned drivers an opportunity to provide food for themselves, their families, and unsuspecting dinner guests.

*name changed to protect the feminine image

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