Anyone who lives in deer country knows that fall is the most dangerous time of year. It's when deer-vehicle collisions peak. In many parts of Pennsylvania, it's not "if" you hit a deer, it's "when" you hit one.
State wildlife agencies invariably report that deer-vehicle collisions rise in October and peak in November. This coincides with the peak of the rut (deer mating season) and deer hunting season. Bucks chase does with abandon; both sexes ignore traffic. And hunters disrupt the deer's normal movement patterns. From mid-October to mid-December, deer can appear on highways anywhere and anytime. They are most active, however, from dusk until dawn.
So, be careful, and keep these tips in mind:
• Deer are everywhere. You're as likely to encounter one on a city street as on a rural interstate.
• Deer behave unpredictably. When you see one, slow down and expect it to cross the road in front of you.
• Deer are social and often move in groups. If you see one cross the road, expect several more to follow.
• When there's no oncoming traffic, use high beams. They will illuminate the eyes of deer on the side of the road.
• If you see a deer on the road ahead of you, brake firmly, but stay in your lane. If you swerve to avoid a 120-pound deer, you may hit an oncoming 3,000-pound vehicle or tree, or lose control of the car.
• If you have young inexperienced drivers in the family, remind them of the damage that deer can do to vehicles and people.
• Finally, note where large nut trees grow along the roads you travel regularly. I pass several large oaks on my way to town, and most years they produce a bumper crop of acorns. Deer love acorns. So, especially at night, I slow down when I pass those trees, because I expect to see hungry deer. Rarely am I disappointed.
Accidents happen, but by knowing the roads and habitat close to home and expecting the unexpected, accidents can be minimized. So, be careful. It's a jungle out there.
Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 AM WVLY (Wheeling), and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 AM WMNY (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com, and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.