Trappers usually take notice of dead animals on roadways
“Man, you sure are interested in roadkills,” my buddy said as we cruised through north-central Missouri.
I’d just said “There’s another ’coon,” and my buddy was responding to it.
Raccoons were extremely plentiful in those parts or there was a distemper epidemic in progress, because it was about the 50th time I’d said “’coon” since we’d cleared Columbia, 100 miles back. We’d also been seeing other stuff, of course — a few deer, some rabbits, a coyote, and of course the ubiquitous ’possums and skunks, who lose more of their fur on the nation’s roadways than in our fur sheds.
My buddy, a non-trapper, was amused and puzzled by my pre-occupation with the aftermath of critter-vehicle collisions. He noticed the occasional road-killed animal, if it was on the blacktop, but he didn’t search the road shoulders the way I was obviously doing. And for sure he didn’t key out the carcass every time he spied one.
My friend thought I was odd, but every trapper I know is coo-coo for asphalt pizza. Maybe there are toe-pinchers somewhere who aren’t interested in roadkill, but I haven’t met one.
A friend of mine tells the story of how, as a near-starving college student, he was on a first date when a ’possum darted across the road in the headlights. My friend clipped it, jumped out, grabbed the still-flopping ’possum, threw it in the trunk … and subsequently got back in the vehicle with a wide-eyed woman who shrank as far away from this obvious maniac as possible. They’ve now been married 30 years, so I guess they worked it out. But the story is a prime example of how differently trappers and non-trappers view this whole roadkill thing.
Partly, our interest is economic. During the cold months when fur is prime, many a dollar is gleaned off the roadsides by folks who stop and pick up a fresh, not-too-mangled raccoon, fox, mink, bobcat or other furbearer, and there’s been many a meal made from the meat from a freshly roadkilled deer. Depending on the species, roadkills can also provide fine bait for catching other critters. I’ve caught dozens of foxes and bobcats on roadkill squirrel and rabbit, and I read somewhere that those little flat pizza birds, especially if they have a feather or two still waving, make excellent flags for bobcat trapping.
There’s also off-season scouting. It’s an inexact science, granted, but a trapper can get a good idea of the furbearer population by the number and species of roadkills he sees during summer and fall. Lots of roadkill doesn’t always translate into high furbearer populations — the distemper mentioned above can play a big part — but in general, high roadkill numbers indicate a decent furbearer crop. When I lived in the high-density mink country of east-central Arkansas, I could expect to find lots of young-of-the-year mink (and therefore a high mink population) if I saw a lot of young roadkilled mink in July and August.
Anyway, even if there’s no economic or scouting value in it, watching for roadkill helps pass the time on those long road trips outdoor folks always seem to be taking. At the very least, I’d rather look for roadkill than read the drivel on today’s billboards. Bring back the Burma-Shave signs and I might feel differently, but until then, I’ll continue every so often to say, “There’s another ’coon.”
Jim Spencer, of Calico Rock, Ark., is executive editor of T&PC. To contact Jim, send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his website at www.treblehookunlimited.com.