With the arrival (at last) of fall, pretty much everybody I’ve talked to feels better about pretty much everything. Those who love exploring the out-of-doors are especially delighted with this turn in the weather. Cooler days are great news for outdoors enthusiasts. The fact is that it’s just more fun to hike, bike or fish when it’s not 120 degrees in the shade.
Of course, to enjoy the outdoors, you have to go to the outdoors. That usually means a trip in the car, where an early start can give you a whole day of outdoor adventure!
If you’re like me, you want to make those days outdoors last as long as you can. So you’ll hike or fish right up until the moment the sun drops below the hills. That’s often exactly what I do, pushing my adventure as far as I can to take advantage of every single scrap of daylight.
But that means that I often drive home in the dark.
And that brings us to deer season.
Yes, deer season is here — but I’m not talking about hunting. I’m thinking about driving.
Deer activity peaks at this time of year. You’ll see them along trails, by creeks, out in the woods, and, often, standing on the shoulder of the road.
Sure, deer are fun to watch. But when it comes to dealing with traffic, they may not be the smartest creatures on God’s green earth. It seems that this time of year, deer are prone to dash into the nearest roadway at the drop of a hat. And if your car happens to be coming along at the same time…
“Motorists should be alert and pay close attention to roadsides as we are nearing the annual peak time of year for deer movement,” said Charlie Killmaster, state deer biologist with DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division.
It’s happened to members of my family five (count ‘em, five) times. And it happens before you know it. There you are, riding sedately long, minding your own business, and suddenly — BAM! — a deer runs out in front of you.
Colliding with a deer is not a trivial thing. The first time I hit a deer I was going maybe 23 miles per hour. Something had told me to slow down (thank you, God!) or it might have been a lot worse. As it was, it only totaled my truck. Yes, totaled. And it was a great truck too! I was fine, but the truck was never again to ride the backroads of Georgia.
Then it happened to one of my kids. He was driving home about dusk, going slow, when — BAM! — there’s a deer. That one totaled the family minivan…and just a few weeks after it was finally paid off.
Why are vehicle-deer collisions so common this time of year? According to Georgia DNR, there are two main reasons we see more deer along roads in the fall. For one thing, it’s the time of year when deer are in love. Male deer go into what’s called “rut” and begin actively searching for mates. This behavior results in an increase in deer movement, bringing them across roadways.
In other words, when a deer’s in love, he’s not thinking about you and your car. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he’s got other things on his mind.
Another factor is Daylight Savings Time. When we “fall back” for daylight savings time, rush hour (whether you’re coming home from work or from a day in the great outdoors) tends to fall during the same hours in which white-tailed deer are most active — dawn and dusk.
To help keep yourself safe in face of all those careless deer, Georgia DNR offers some things to keep in mind.
First, always remember deer are wild and, therefore, can be unpredictable. A deer calmly standing on the side of a road may bolt into or across the road rather than away from it when startled by a vehicle.
Also remember that one deer often means more deer.
“Keep in mind that deer often travel in groups,” Killmaster notes, “so if a deer crosses the road ahead of you there is a good chance that another will follow. In many cases, that second deer is the one hit as the driver assumes the danger has passed and fails to slow down.”
The lesson here? Always slow down when a deer crosses the road in front of you.
Finally, be aware of the time of day. Since deer are most active at dawn and dusk, they are most often seen along roads during the early morning and late evening, the same times you’re heading out or heading home.
What if the unthinkable happens and a deer runs in front of your car but it’s too late to avoid a collision? In that case, Georgia DNR recommends that “drivers are advised to slow down as much as possible to minimize damage — resist the urge to swerve to avoid the deer, as this may cause further damage, sending drivers off the road or causing a collision with another vehicle.”
To learn more about deer activity this time of year, you might want to check out Georgia’s deer rut map (http://georgiawildlife.com/rut-map). It’s a useful tool that will help you be aware of peaks in deer activity.
Meanwhile, be careful out there. And watch out for those deer!