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Hunters don’t cause darting deer

Larry Woody • Nov 16, 2017 at 9:30 AM

It’s that time of year when motorists need to be on the lookout for deer darting across highways – and contrary to persistent media reports, it’s not because they’re being chased by hunters.

It’s because it’s mating season, or in biological terms, rutting season.

Normally-wary bucks become giddy. They throw caution to the wind and chase does with single-minded abandon. Does, if not in a romantic mood, flee, often darting across roads, heedless of traffic. The bucks, equally heedless, follow.

They’re not running from hunters. If you visit any protected refuge such as the Radnor Lake Natural Area or any state park where hunting is not permitted, you’ll witness the same frantic activity among deer this time of year.

Deer also frequently dash across roads at night -- and there’s no hunting after dark.

I don’t know if some media try to place the blame for increased autumn deer/car collisions on hunters by design or ignorance. I suspect its some of both.

But this much IS true: deer are much more active in the fall, and that means they are more likely to bound in front of motorists.

Thousands of deer/auto collisions occur annually, including approximately 7,000 in Tennessee last year. Injuries to drivers are not uncommon, and sometimes fatal, and damage to vehicles runs into millions of dollars.

The number of incidents in Tennessee has increased steadily over the past decade for two simple reasons: more deer and more motorists.

Not only are there more motorists, but they are steadily encroaching into once-rural areas due to suburban sprawl. What used to be fields and forests -- many used by deer as crossings for centuries – nowadays are high-density residential areas and shopping malls.

Also, the state’s deer herd continues to increase, resulting in deer over-population in many suburban areas where they cannot be controlled by hunting. That means collisions are inevitable.

State highway safety officials offer some advice about how to lower the odds, starting with going slower through areas with high deer densities and keeping an eye out for activity along the roadsides. At night, deer’s eyes glow in the dark, affording some warning.

If one deer flashes across the road, look out -- others often follow.

If a deer suddenly darts in front of a car, sometimes – depending on speed, terrain, on-coming traffic and other factors – it’s safer to hit the deer than to swerve to avoid it. As bad as smacking into a deer may be, it’s better than swerving into a head-on crash with an on-coming vehicle or sailing off a cliff into a tree.

If you hit a deer, don’t stop in the road – that can result in another accident. Try to pull off to the side, or if the vehicle is not too damaged, drive on to a safe pull-off. You are not required to report a deer collision, although in the event of vehicle damage it’s a good idea to have an official law-enforcement record for insurance purposes.

Don’t attempt to aid an injured deer. A wounded, frightened deer can be dangerous with its thrashing antlers or hooves. If a dead or injured deer is in the road and presents a hazard to other traffic, call local law-enforcement authorizes and report the location.

The only way to avoid a deer collision is to slow down and remain alert. But sometimes, even that’s not enough.

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