The Kansas Fish and Game Commission did an outstanding job helping to bring the White-Tail Deer back to a healthy population in Kansas back in the 1960’s and 70’s. The animals had declined due to over hunting and loss of habitat among other things.
The State of Kansas finally put some special protections on the animals and went to a lottery system for getting permits to hunt them. This provided a way to manage the size of the herd in different zones or areas of the state.
I first worked on the Perry Wildlife Area, managed by the Kansas Fish and Game, in about 1982. Even by that time the succes of the program was beginning to overtake expectations. Everyone knew that the deer were specially protected. Anytime a dead deer was found, someone would usually call to report it. The animal was usually a victim of crime, normally called poaching, or the result of a collision with a vehicle along the highway.
The problem was that people expected someone to go get the dead deer and dispose of it. Sometimes you might get numerous calls on the same deer, depending on how visible it was.
The Department of Transportation guys didn’t want to deal with them and would call us to get the deer from their highway.
If it was winter time and the animal was frozen or at least cold, it wasn’t a big deal. If it was warm weather, it was a different story completely. It didn’t take too long for decomposition to begin.
You’d find the deer and there would already be maggots and the wonderful stench of decaying flesh. I’d try to pick the animal up without spilling the guts out and onto my pants. As you may know, when animals decay, they form gases, which collect inside the tissues. This causes them to bloat in warm weather and if the animal is moved, the tissue will tear very easily, with the gases and “JUICES” spilling out onto your pants and shirt. Potentially a huge nightmarish mess.
At this point, it is a matter of trying not to throw-up as you heave the animal into the back of your pickup truck. On a normal day the animals will weigh well over 200 pounds. If it is bloated, in pieces, and covered with maggots at a temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit, it turns into a type of torture for the person trying to lift it.
Many of the people who called, genuinely thought that we could look at the animal and find clues and evidence which would lead us to arrest the criminal who killed the animal. Once in a while, it was possible to find other evidence or witnesses which lead to an arrest, but the vast majority of the time it was just a matter of moving the carcass to an area where it could decompose and serve as a food source for the numerous scavengers such as vultures, eagles, coyotes, and other animals or insects. An area where people wouldn’t see it and continue calling it in.
By the time we got to the late 1990’s, people weren’t nearly as protective of the deer. The population had gotten to such a high level that people were having vehicle collisions with them on a very regular basis. It was common for there to be several deer hits in each county every day during certain times of the year when the deer were in the “Rut”. That time in late fall when the males were actively looking to mate and were out and on the move. Looking for a date.
As I sit here writing this blog, it is August and the temperature is close to 100F degrees. It reminds me of one hot summer day when I got a call that there was a dead deer along the side of a busy highway. I knew that I couldn’t ignore it because it was in a busy area and someone else would call if I didn’t do something about it.
Over the years I had tried, as many Game Wardens had, to come up with a method of getting rid of a deer quickly and without the risk of the carcass rupturing and spilling all over you in the heat of the afternoon.
In our part of Kansas, the rural roads are surfaced with limestone gravel. As I drove along the country road, I thought about how it would be nice to somehow grind the body up into little pieces.
I pulled onto the busy highway, US-59, and drove to where the deer carcass laid. It had apparently been hit by a vehicle and died at the edge of the pavement. I opened th tailgate of the truck and heaved the deers carcass into the back of the pickup. I wanted to get it done quickly before it decomposed too much or bloated in the heat of the day.
I then drove to the Sheriff’s Office which was just down the road. I had to wash my hands and arms real good, becuase oddly enough, I am very allergic to deer hair. I immediately began itching and getting a rash on my arms and hands where I had touched the deer.
So you can see that I had a little extra motivation for trying to come up with a better way to dispose of dead deer without touching them anymore than absolutely necessary.
As I was washing my hands it suddenly dawned on me. It was so obvious that I couldn’t believe that no one had thought of it earlier.
I walked out of the building and opened the tailgate of the truck. A couple Sheriff’s Deputies were standing there looking at the deer. One of them asked what I was going to do with it. I just smiled as I grabbed the hind leg of the deer and pulled the entire animal out of the truck and onto the asphault of the parking lot. The deputies stepped back and their eyes bugged out as they stood there speechless.
I got into my truck and pulled out a length of rope and tied it to the hind legs of the deer. I tied the other end to the trailer hitch on the back of the truck. I then told the deputies that the gravel roads were like giant lenghts of sandpaper. If you drug something down them, logically, it seemed that the item being drug would wear away in small pieces until it was all gone.
The deputies laughed in disbelief. They didn’t think I was seriously going to drag a dead deer around the county…… I just smiled as I jumped into my truck. I told them it was an experiment to see how long it would take until there was nothing left of it. They watched in humerous disbelief as I drove away.
If my idea panned out, I could just pull up to a deer and tie it off with a rope. I would then drag it down the gravel road with little pieces grinding up and falling off, too small to be noticeable. If I was lucky, dragging it down a couple miles of remote gravel road would be all I would need.
So I waved to the deputies as I pulled away with the large deer dragging behind me. I suppose it was a very odd sight with a state truck dragging a deer out of the Sheriff’s Department parking lot and down the highway.
I drove a few miles and checked the deer. The asphault didn’t seem to cause the carcass to break up much. It just sort of slid along behind me weaving from side to side.
I passed a couple people out in their yards as I went by. One old man pulled off his wide-brimmed hat and took a good long look at whatever it was that was dragging behind me. I waved at him, but I think he was too stunned to wave back. He probably thought he’d gotten too much sun and heat. It just didn’t make sense that a Game Warden would be driving down the highway with a deer dragging on the pavement behind his state truck.
I found a good rough gravel road and began driving the countryside. I just let the gravel do it’s magic. I got out and checked it several times. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t coming apart as quickly as I had hoped.
Originally, I had hoped the process could be completed in less than an hour, but here it was a couple hours into the experiment and all that was gone was the head and a front leg.
At this point it was so ground up and covered with gravel dust and dirt that it was difficult to really tell what it was, so I decided I would just go about my job and check on it from time to time.
So I began driving through the parks and around the lake checking fishing licenses. Once in a while someone in a parking area would point at the two legs and blob of deer body that was left and make a face. I’d just smile at them and say I was doing an experiment.
My district was a very busy district and so I ended up checking a lot of licenses and writing several tickets for violations of the fishing regulations. It turned into a pretty busy afternoon.
I think it was a combination of being busy and the heat of the summer, but I sort of lost track of my experiment. The carcass had worn down so much that I couldn’t even see it in my rearview mirror, so it sort of slipped my mind.
It was getting toward the end of the day and I decided to stop into a convenience store to get gasoline and a Diet Coke. The road I used was a 4 lane divided highway with a 65 mile per hour speed limit. As I got into town, I was in the middle of traffic on a busy highway thinking about how thirsty I was for that cold pop.
I glanced in the mirror and noticed a car blinking its headlights behind me. I ignored it and kept going. I went through a large and very busy interchange where the 4 lane highway intersected the 5 lane, Topeka Boulevard. I watched and the car continued to follow me and blink its headlights. I rolled down my window and could now hear that he was honking his car horn.
I thought he might have information for me about some crime or had some urgent question. So I called my dispatch by radio and told them I was being flagged down by a motorist and my location. This was standard protocol in case something bad happened. You just never knew what someone wanted.
I pulled over onto the shoulder and the guy in the car pulled over behind me. He got out of his car as I exited the truck. We met at the rear of my truck at about the same time.
It suddenly dawned on me what he wanted. He was probably mad or sickened by the sight of a partial deer carcass being drug behind a State Game Warden’s truck. I could just imagine the call to my supervisor and the trouble I had gotten myself into. I had forgotten it was still back there as I went into Topeka, a large town.
I felt like such an idiot. I hadn’t remembered to check if any of the deer was left at the end of the rope.
As I stood there in my full uniform looking very sheepish, I braced myself for the chewing out I was about to get.
And then came the words……
“Oh my god! Someone sure went to a lot of trouble to play a trick on a game warden by tying a dead deer to his truck!!… He then let out a big belly laugh as he pointed at the two deer legs still tied to the truck!!!
I then replied with the most sincere and truthful look of honesty I could muster, “You know, I’ll bet it was those Sheriff’s Deputies. They’re always palying tricks on me! I wondered why they were laughing as I left the Sheriff’s Office!…….”
We both got in our vehicles and drove away laughing…..He because it was funny…..Me because I dodged big trouble…..
I guess that’s the price of advancing science sometimes.