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Published: 10/25/2004

Deer-car collisions yield bounty

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jill Jurgess of Lenawee County shows off a young deer head. She has processed as many as eight road-kill deer in a year. Jill Jurgess of Lenawee County shows off a young deer head. She has processed as many as eight road-kill deer in a year.
LONG / BLADE Enlarge
Taxidermist Jill Jurgess displays her deer pelts. She has been on the road-kill call list since 1989. Taxidermist Jill Jurgess displays her deer pelts. She has been on the road-kill call list since 1989.
LONG / BLADE Enlarge

Go ahead. Laugh if you will.

But first consider these: steaks hissing on a grill, a tender roast simmering in its juices, or a heaping bowl of chili with just the right bite.

And it's free for the taking if you're on a deer road-kill "call list."

"You roast it with bullion cubes, and it tastes like beef," said Jill Jurgess, who said she has processed as many as eight road-kill deer in one year.

"You can save a lot of money, and it's good meat," said Kevin Newsome, a wildlife officer with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife.

It's the time of year when the area's deer population comes face to face with the four H's - hormones, hunger, hunters, and harvest season - that chase them onto highways.

The number of traffic accidents involving deer skyrockets in October, November, and December as deer hit breeding season and the prewinter feeding frenzy begins. They come face to face with hunters, and are chased out of gardens and cornfields as crops are harvested.

Last year in Ohio, for example, 15,362 deer-auto accidents out of the year's total of 31,729 occurred in the last three months of the year. Seven of the year's total were fatal for a motorist, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

In Michigan last year, 11 people were killed in the state's 67,760 deer-vehicle accidents.

Deer accidents are so frequent around this time, in fact, that deputies in Lenawee County, where Ms. Jurgess lives, often cannot respond to the calls. As long as the car is drivable and no one was injured, drivers are instead asked to come to the sheriff's department to make a report, Lewawee County Sheriff's Department road patrol Cpl. Jeff Paterson said.

"It's not unusual to have a dozen accidents a day. You can tie up every officer you have on car-deer accidents," he said.

On Friday, a Monroe County sheriff's deputy's car sustained heavy damage after it struck a large buck shortly after 5:30 a.m. As in so many accidents, the deer was on the roadway before the driver, a deputy, could react.

"He was on regular patrol, just minding his own business, and he never saw it," sheriff's Capt. Tom Hudson said. This time of the year, he said, "they're everywhere."

According to the Ohio Insurance Institute, which is scheduled to release its findings today on deer-vehicle collisions for last year, nearly three-fourths of all accidents happened in nine hours of the day - from 5 to 7 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to midnight.

The institute blends statistics from Ohio's departments of public safety and natural resources with data from the national Insurance Information Institute for its annual report. In all, the property damages cost Ohio's insurers an estimated $63.5 million last year, it said.

All that adds up to a lot of meat.

By law, the motorist who hits a deer has first dibs on the carcass as long as they report the accident and obtain a permit from the local law enforcement or the state's wildlife division.

Dispatchers at a sampling of local sheriff's offices and Ohio Highway Patrol posts told The Blade that about half of those motorists opt to do just that.

But some deer are too badly damaged for human consumption and they are picked up by the Toledo Zoo to feed its wolves and wild dogs, picked up by road crews, or left by the roadside to rot.

And the remaining deer? The ones that aren't so badly damaged but unwanted by the motorist involved?

Like many counties, the Lucas County sheriff's office has an informal call list. This year, more than a dozen residents are listed as willing to pick up deer carcasses in Lucas County.

From steaks to taco meat, the uses are as varied as the uses for beef, said Lucas County Deputy Gary Lofgren, who has put his name on call lists for Sylvania Township and Ohio Highway Patrol.

"[Deer] make a great hamburger," he said. "A lot of people make chili out of them. We had spaghetti the other night. The meat in that was venison."

There's more than a financial advantage to the free meat. There are health reasons, too. The meat is packed with nutrients and lacking many of the additives in some commercial beef, officials say.

A healthy adult deer can yield between 50 and 80 pounds of meat, said wildlife biologist Bob Flickinger of the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

"It's pretty well acknowledged, it's much leaner," he said.

Still, not everyone is convinced.

"You kind of have to be in the mind-set for this sort of thing," said Deputy Lofgren.

He's had friends tell him they wouldn't eat venison, let alone road kill, he said.

It turns out, the snickers are on them.

"Just out of orneriness I've cooked it up and served it, and said, 'How'd you like your hamburger?' " Deputy Lofgren said, chuckling.

And wildlife Officer Newsome, recently married, concedes he has been unable to convince his bride to try venison. Though the venison in his freezer is from hunting, he said he has eaten road-kill deer at other homes.

The reluctance of some people, he said, is "mental."

"Most people think when they buy their meat that it grew on that shelf at Kroger's," he said. "But you've got to remember: A cow died for that beef you're eating."

Contact Robin Erb at: robinerb@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.



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