Many years ago I was invited to hunt whitetails on a friend’s property in upstate New York during November, when the rut was on and the bucks would be moving good. To get there you had to leave the interstate, take a two-lane paved road that wound its way through the Finger Lakes region, then turn onto a lane-and-a-half dirt track that circled a steep mountain for about a mile to the cabin.
Of course it was snowing to beat the band, visibility was measured in feet, and the dirt road had turned into a skating rink. As we were crawling along trying to keep from sliding off the edge, I happened to look off to the left, up the side of the hill, and saw a big fat doe peering down. She wanted to cross the road in the worst way, so here she came, hell bent for election, on a collision course with us like a torpedo. To jam on the brakes would have risked skidding off the edge, so I took my foot off the gas. As the doe intersected our path, she literally tried to jump the hood.
She didn’t make it, instead landing right in the middle of the hood, rolling back into the windshield, then up and over the roof, then plunk! She plopped down in the powder, and in the mirror I saw her shake her head, jump up and race off down the hill. She appeared fine, as did my rental car. It was a lucky day for both of us.
State Farm Insurance estimates there were 1.35 million deer/car collisions in the U.S. between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, with almost 200 human fatalities and each incident costing an average of $4,179. Most of these collisions occur during the rut — numerous scientific studies have shown a strong correlation between breeding dates, deer movement and deer-vehicle collisions — when deer movement can be both more random in nature and more prevalent during all hours of the day and night. Although the peak of the deer breeding season varies in timing throughout North America, the majority of whitetails breed from late October through December, with a peak in November.
Related: Deer-car collisions by state
While there’s not much you can do if a crazed deer wants to jump onto your hood, here are some tips that can be effective at helping motorists avoid deer on highways.
10. Put Your Lips Together and Blow
Years ago, University of Georgia researchers tested a variety of sounds of different frequencies and intensities to see how deer on a roadway reacted. These sounds, emitted from a specially equipped car, included a wide range of the high-frequency sounds that so-called “deer whistles” claim to emit. However, hundreds of tests found these high-frequency whistles did not change deer behavior from the way they reacted when no sound was being emitted. Bottom line — as they say in New York, fuhgedaboudit. Whistling Dixie would be just as effective.
9. Keep Your Guard Up
This is your best defense. In wooded areas, watch for deer in the ditches and along forest edges. And while deer are most active near dawn and dusk, during the rut they may race across the road any time of the day or night.
8. Recognize Local Danger Zones
Where you live you are probably aware of local areas where you just see more deer than other places all year-round. Often these are places where trees form pinch points that create natural funnels. Pay extra attention to these areas, and mentally mark them as danger zones.
7. Light ’em Up
Seems obvious, but when traveling at night in suburban or rural areas, use your high beams whenever possible to help you spot deer on the roadside.
6. Slow Down Early
Think you see a deer? Slow the heck down! At night, deer may be blinded or confused by your headlights and are not sure if there is danger or where it is located. They may dart suddenly in front of you. They may run across the road, then swiftly spin around and come charging right back. You just never know.
5. Make Some Music
If you spot a deer standing on the side of the road, slow down and blow your horn. A deer’s able to pivot each ear independently, making them very good at pinpointing the locations of sounds. Blowing your horn repeatedly is likely to help the deer pinpoint an oncoming vehicle and move away from the road. Don’t count on it, however. Slow down anyway, and remember, when you assume all will be well, a deer just might shatter your front bumper.
4. Watch for the Next Deer in Line
During the rut, a doe that runs across the road is very likely to be followed by one or more bucks. If you see one deer run across the road ahead of you, slow down and be prepared to stop.
3. Avoid Distractions
OK, I know none of you would ever be distracted while driving by texting, talking on the phone without a headset, eating or working the radio, right? Especially in a high-traffic deer zone? Right??
2. Do Not Swerve
No matter how vigilant you are, sometimes deer appear suddenly and swiftly from the woods close to your vehicle. If you were cautious and slowed down, this will help you avoid a collision. But if a collision appears unavoidable, do not swerve into the opposite lane or onto the shoulder of the road to avoid hitting the deer. If you reduced your speed due to the proximity of woods, the damage to your car may be lessened. But if you swerve into oncoming traffic or onto the shoulder, where other obstacles may be in your path — well, no good can come of that.
1. Stay Calm
If the worst happens and an auto-deer collision occurs, here’s what to do, according to State Farm Insurance:
- Move your vehicle to a safe place. If possible, pull over to the side of the road and turn on your hazard lights. If you must leave your vehicle, stay off the road and out of the way of any oncoming vehicles. Deer are most active at dusk and dawn — times when you or your vehicle may be less visible to other motorists.
- Call the police: Alert authorities if the deer is blocking traffic and creating a threat for other drivers. If the collision results in injury or property damage, you may need to fill out an official report. This report also can prove useful when filing your insurance claim.
- Document the incident: If it’s safe to do so, take photographs of the roadway, your surroundings, damage to your vehicle, and any injuries you or your passengers sustained. If witnesses stop, take down their account of what occurred and ask for their contact information.
- Stay away from the animal: A frightened, wounded deer could use its powerful legs and sharp hooves to harm you.
- Contact your insurance agent: The sooner you report damage or injuries, the sooner your agent can file and process your claim. Don’t assume your vehicle is safe to drive. Double-check that your car is drivable after colliding with a deer. Look for leaking fluid, loose parts, tire damage, broken lights, a hood that won’t latch and other safety hazards. If your vehicle seems unsafe in any way, call for a tow.
Have you ever hit a deer with your car? What happened? How did you handle it? I’d love to hear your stories! E-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image: iStock