This is the time of the year when drivers must be particularly careful when on the road. I’ve had two incidents during the last week which have prompted me to write this article. Fall is a beautiful time of the year in the Upper Midwest with trees turning color and leaves falling, cool and crisp nights, and sunny and clear days where being outdoors in Wisconsin is invigorating. But, this also is a time when drivers must be extremely careful and attentive.
October, November, and into December are the times of the year when the deer that so many of us enjoy watching and hunting go into “rut” or the mating season for whitetail deer. Nationally, November has the most collisions of the year. Male deer or bucks are now running wild and seem to forget their normal elusive nature that they follow the rest of the year. Bucks are so focused on mating that they don’t think straight this time of year. Bucks are looking for does to breed and other males to fight with during the rut. I was lucky two times in the last two days when I had bucks run across the highway in front of my truck and nearly miss getting hit by “the wink of an eye.” The other night, I had to go into Sauk City to get some dog food and while driving there I had a 10 point buck run full speed across the county highway just in front of my truck. A second earlier and I would have hit this deer at 55 miles per hour and with the average deer/auto collision costing the driver thousands of dollars. Plus, besides the damage to the vehicle, I could have crashed and possibly be injured. Then, I had another buck run across a main highway between me and another vehicle and barely getting missed by a truck going the other direction.
Here are some statistics which show you how common and costly in lives and money these collisions can be! Nationally, there are 1.5 million car/deer crashes, resulting in 150 human deaths, and 1.1 billion in damages. The Insurance Institute says that the average car/deer crash exceeds $2600.00 in damages. To give a few comparisons, sharks have killed 10 people in the last 10 years according to the Shark Attack File and bears have killed 28 people in the last 10 years according to Bearplanet.org. For the fifth year in a row, West Virginia is the state where you are most likely to have a deer/vehicle crash according to State Farm Insurance. The chances of having a deer/auto collision are 1 in 42 in West Virginia. The other states in the top ten are; Iowa (1 in 67), South Dakota (1 in 75), Pennsylvania (1 in 84), Michigan (1 in 89), Montana (1 in 82), Wisconsin (1 in 95), Minnesota (1 in 99), North Dakota (1 in 101), and Wyoming (1 in 114). Your chance of hitting a deer in Hawaii is 1 in 13,011.
One of the main reasons that there are so many deer and auto collisions is because there has been a steady and growing deer population in most of the Midwest and other areas of the country. The human population is also growing with urban sprawl spreading into more rural areas where the deer live and strive. Take more deer and compact them into an area that is much smaller with more contact with man spells trouble for both species. Locally, look at Highway 12 which has expanded to four lanes from Sauk City to Madison. One can’t drive into Madison without seeing dead deer off the side of the Highway. The Sauk City area is growing and expanding with new houses being built regularly and a high population of whitetail deer in Sauk County. Deer are hit regularly during the year, but now during the rut season for deer the chances of running into a deer is many times higher than the rest of the year.
Here are a few tips that can make lessen your chances of being involved in a deer/auto crash; 1) Stay aware, awake, and be sober. 2) Car and deer crashes occur throughout the year, but be especially careful in the fall and at dawn and dusk. 3) Pay attention to the speed limit and deer crossing signs because they are there for a reason and to let you know that this is a common crossing location. 4) Deer rarely travel alone, so if you see one deer be careful because there are mostly likely more deer coming your way. 5) Make sure that you are wearing a shoulder harness or seat belt because they are your best defense in case of a crash. These are tips that you should be aware of because there are times when you cannot avoid a collision because the deer will run into you.
If a crash with a deer is unavoidable, 1) Hold your steering wheel firmly and don’t swerve while staying in your lane. Then, make a controlled stop. 2) Pull off the road and put on your emergency flashers and watch for traffic. 3) Don’t try to move the deer unless you are positive that the deer is dead. 4) Immediately report the crash to local law enforcement agencies and your insurance agent. 5) The police or DNR warden may give you a permit if you wish to keep the deer. These are the basic things to do if you’re involved in a deer/auto crash.
Be particularly wary this time of the year when deer are so active. Though dawn and dusk are main traveling times for deer, they can be moving at any time during the rut period. Bow hunters are harvesting deer at high rates while seeing bucks chasing does constantly while attempting to breed as many as possible. If driving at night, use your high beams for maximum visibility and being particularly alert for moving deer. Another important thing to remember is that deer don’t usually travel alone, so if you see one deer there may be more coming that you don’t see. Have a safe and productive hunting season!