Deerly departed: High season for roadkill

Early one fall morning in a highway department garage in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Jeffrey Brownsberger’s boss hands him a note.

There are two dead deer on the roads out there. One lies near the I-470 and Missouri 350 interchange, the other on westbound U.S. 50 before Smart Road.

Brownsberger’s assignment: Go get ’em.

Dressed in tidy denim overalls, several layers of shirts, a vest and hard hat of safety yellow, Brownsberger climbs up into a Missouri Department of Transportation truck. An orange sign on the back warns, “Stay Back 200 Feet Debris Removal.”

From now through December, hundreds of deer will tangle with speeding cars and trucks on the metro’s roads — and lose. In Jackson County alone, where cars tend to be the main predators of deer, it’s not uncommon for highway workers like Brownsberger to pick up 10 to 15 dead deer every day at this time of year. The deer are on the move, and they don’t always look both ways before crossing the road.

That’s when Brownsberger sweeps in.

In winter there’d be a snow plow attached to the front of the truck. But today it wears a Gator Getter — MoDOT’s new road kill picker-upper.

Only a handful of people know how to use the scoop-like Getter, and Brownsberger, known by his work buddies as a tinkerer who likes to invent things, is one of them. He’s grateful for the Getter because even on gorgeous fall days, this is a dirty, backbreaking, sometimes dangerous, mostly thankless job.

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