Deer on Cars – a Practical Issue

Many years ago it was common to haul deer on the roofs of cars. There are still some good reasons to do it. Photo by Steve Sorensen
Many years ago it was common to haul deer on the roofs of cars. There are still some good reasons to do it. Photo by Steve Sorensen
Many years ago it was common to haul deer on the roofs of cars. There are still some good reasons to do it. Photo by Steve Sorensen

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

On opening day of deer season some 60 years ago, cars passing through Warren, PA formed a virtual parade of bucks tied to fenders. I wasn’t around to see it but I believe it because a quick Internet search will turn up nostalgic black and white photographs of our hunting forefathers with deer on cars. One of my favorite vintage photos shows the all-time biggest New York typical buck, harvested by Roosevelt Luckey in 1939. Mr. Luckey is sitting on the front bumper of a car holding his mounted trophy head. (Maybe there was a rule that said a car had to be in the photo, whether or the buck is a fresh kill or the taxidermist just delivered it.)

Back in those days such photos were a way of celebrating the hunt. No one seemed bothered by it, but you don’t see it as often today, and lots of people don’t like it.

On Tuesday, the second day of Pennsylvania’s rifle season this year, my brother and I were following a small maroon station wagon. On its roof was a nice buck, and the closer we got the more impressive it looked. We started to pass, and my brother said, “Hey, that’s Tom!” Tom is a life-long buddy.

We pulled over in a parking lot to hear Tom’s story. The buck was magnificent. Certainly not as big as the Luckey buck, but a sure qualifier for Pennsylvania’s record book.

The only time I hoisted a deer onto the roof, my hunting rig was a Volkswagen Beetle. It took all my strength to muscle the seven-point onto that rounded roof. As I tried to tie him down he tried to slide off the front, back, left and right. Miraculously, he stayed there during the 6-mile ride home. How else could you haul a buck on a Beetle?

This all brings up the question of whether it’s proper to display deer on vehicles. For a long time I’ve sided with the people who frown on it. Many think it looks barbaric. It might be insensitive to non-hunters and we worry that it could turn some of them into anti-hunters. Some people would even like a law against displaying deer outside a vehicle.

I don’t want to turn people’s stomachs, encourage them to be sympathetic to the dead deer, or cause them to think my recent ancestors were Cro-Magnons. Nor do I feel the need to publicly display my deer or get it full of road grime. But the coin has another side. Here are several good reasons to load him on top and head out on the highway.

  1. Ticks – Deer are loaded with ticks, many, many more than I remember when I began hunting. I don’t think anyone wants those ticks inside our cars.
  2. Blood – I’m sorry, but deer are bloody, and blood makes a much bigger mess inside the car than outside the car.
  3. Heat – The body heat of a deer needs to be dissipated, more quickly done when the deer is on the roof than in the cargo area of an enclosed vehicle.
  4. Size – Not every hunter has a pickup, and most of us drive smaller cars these days, with less room thanks to all the stuff we haul around.
    For these reasons, I’m not critical of hunters hauling deer on top of their cars. It’s not an ethical issue, as some try to make it. It’s a practical issue. I’m OK with it, as long as we’re not trying to say, “Hey everybody – look at me!”

Then there was the time I brought a dead coyote home on the floor of the front seat of the family car. If neighbors and other motorists had known, they may have appreciated it. My wife knew, but didn’t.


When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, writing about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. Contact him at, and read more of his thoughts about hunting at