By Debra A. Parker
Oklahoma deer hunters have a wealth of opportunity when it comes to trying to outwit the state’s most popular game animal.
In fact, since Oct. 1, archery hunters have been doing their best to reduce our exploding deer populations around the county and state. This is accomplished by harvesting ample numbers of does for the freezer or for healthy venison donations destined for state’s Hunter’s Against Hunger program.
Hunters are now the apex predator in charge of keeping deer herds in check since bears and wolves were eradicated long ago in our area. Having plenty of hunters to fulfill this role is a necessity.
This is important because along with extremely high and rising deer numbers, deer-related car accidents also are on the rise.
There’s no question, cars and deer are a lethal combination. In fact, many drivers may be killed as a result of deer-vehicular collisions, particularly in the fall months when the most deer movement takes place.
To understand why, we must delve off into a bit of biology. The bulk of deer breeding occurs from the second week in November to Thanksgiving with some does being bred shortly before or thereafter.
Deer are also searching for food to improve fat reserves in preparation for winter. These factors cause a dramatic increase in the movement of local deer herds and as a result, more deer-vehicle collisions occur in this period than any other time of year. With Cleveland County having so many deer combined with so many people, drivers need to be especially cautious, especially at dusk and dawn.
The Insurance Information Institute estimates there are over 1.6 million deer-vehicle collisions each year, resulting in about 150 human deaths, tens of thousands of injuries and more than $3.6 billion in vehicular damage. An additional billion is estimated to be spent on medical payments for injuries to people in the car and out-of-pocket expenses paid by vehicle owners, bringing the total cost to approximately $4.6 billion. The average cost for individual claims is approximately $3,000.
Studies show three out of four vehicle-animal collisions involve deer, and that November is the peak month for these accidents to occur. Late October also sees a significant number of deer-related accidents. As wildlife habitat shrinks and more people move to rural areas, accidents with deer and other animals will increase. Not only is urban sprawl displacing deer from their habitat, but the deer population is continuing to grow.
This can be especially true where regulations or city ordinances prevent or restrict hunters from harvesting deer; especially does which are the population drivers. As a result, populations explode and deer are forced to move often to find more food and additional living space. This results in hundreds of thousands of deer finding their way onto roadways.
We all know friends and family who have been involved with serious or sometimes fatal car accidents with deer. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to decrease the likelihood of being involved in a deer-vehicle collision.
Drivers should know that deer are not just found in the country crossing rural roads near wooded areas. In fact, many deer crashes occur on busy highways near cities in wide open habitat.
Also, deer are unpredictable and have poor depth perception, especially when faced with bright headlights, loud engines and fast-moving vehicles. They often dart quickly into traffic unexpectedly. In addition, if does have successfully given birth and raised fawns, they generally stay together into the winter months. This means if you see one cross the road, there are likely more in the immediate vicinity.
Drivers should use caution in areas known to have a large deer population and in areas where roads divide crop fields and forestland. Coupled with being a more cautious driver, always wear your seatbelt. This should be a no-brainer these days, but some still need a reminder. One study of fatal animal crashes showed 60 percent of people killed were not wearing a seatbelt and sixty-five percent of people killed in animal-related crashes while riding motorcycles were not wearing helmets. Also, when driving at night, use high beam headlights when there is no oncoming traffic. The high beams better illuminate the eyes of deer and many other animals on or near the roadway.
Motorists should be attentive from early evening, through nighttime and shortly after sunrise. These are the highest risk times for deer-vehicle collisions.
However, in mid-November deer may be crossing roadways at all times during the day while the “rut” or breeding phase is at a frenzied level. Deer of all ages are unpredictable in mid-November and can be seen at any time of day.
Brake firmly when you notice a deer in or near your path, slow down, but stay in your lane and do not swerve.
Many fatal crashes occur when drivers swerve to avoid a deer and hit another vehicle, tree, or power pole and lose control. Lastly, do not rely on devices such as deer whistles, deer fences and/or reflectors to deter deer. These devices are ineffective and unproven.
Heath Herje is an agriculture and wildlife educator for Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service in Cleveland County. He can be reached at 405-321-4774.