Bowhunters are beginning to see the start of the deer rut when bucks begin chasing does for their mating season. When that occurs, wary bucks throw caution to the wind and run across roadways and highways in pursuit of a doe in-heat.
It’s at this time when deer-vehicle accidents are common in the fall, so drivers need to be alert to the danger, suggests Whitetails Unlimited Director Russ Austad. “According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are approximately 1 million car accidents with deer each year. These accidents kill 200 Americans, cause more than 10,000 personal injuries, and result in $1 billion in vehicle damage.”
Deer are primarily active at night and particularly during the hours between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Dawn and dusk are main travel times as they move from bedding areas to feed in the evening, and back in the morning. Even during the day when they’re on the chase.
State Farm Insurance Company estimates there were over 2 million animal collision insurance industry claims for the past year. This marks a 7.2 percent increase over the previous 12 months, according to State Farm.
Animal strike claims typically rise dramatically in the fall, and peak in October-November. Insurance claims from 2006 through 2020 show claim frequency in November was more than twice the monthly average, when such claims are least likely to be filed.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that about 20 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths result from the vehicle leaving the road and striking a solid object, like a tree or utility pole. Due to the risk of leaving your lane, losing control and leaving the road, braking in a straight line is better than a sudden swerve in many cases when encountering a potential animal strike.
There are a number of things a driver can do to be safer during this time of year:
* If you see one deer, assume there are others around. Deer often travel in groups.
* Deer crossing signs along the highway are there for a reason – deer are known to cross the road in that area so be extra cautious.
* Reduce your speed and watch the edges of the road, as well as ditches and tree lines along the highway. At night, drive within the limits of your headlights and use your high beams when you are able to. Headlights will pick up reflections from the deer’s eyes long before you will be able to see the entire deer. If you see these reflections, start to slow down.
* If a collision with a deer is inevitable, avoid swerving to miss the deer and do not go into the ditch or cross the centerline into oncoming traffic. Most experts advise hitting the deer instead of swerving sharply into the side of the road and possibly losing control of the vehicle, hitting a roadside object, or rolling the vehicle.
* If you do hit a deer call police as insurance companies normally require a police report if there is damage that needs to be repaired. Do not approach a deer that is injured but still alive. It will be scared and want to flee, and you can be injured by hooves or antlers. Police officers and game wardens are permitted to destroy injured animals, but it’s usually not legal for individuals to kill a deer out of season or without a license, regardless of circumstance.
Seeing a deer in the woods is a unique experience, but it’s scary when you see one in front of you when you’re driving.
As a “heads up” for you waterfowl hunters, local farmers have started taking down their corn and soybean crops so this should be inviting for ducks and geese to begin feeding in these harvested fields. In Lehigh County, I’ve seen early morning flights of small flocks of geese taking off from the Lehigh River around 7:30 a.m. and they all seem to be flying West.
Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.