There’s never a time of day or time of year a motorist can’t be confronted with a deer deciding it needs to be on the other side of the road. In our area, there’s hardly a place that doesn’t have the potential of being a deer crossing zone, either. Areas bordered by trees are certainly suspect, but I’ve had close calls with deer on the road a mile or more away from anything I’d consider deer habitat.
If there’s a “deer crossing season” where you are likely to have a close encounter of the deer kind, it’s now through the end of autumn. Some blame it on deer hunting season or deer hunting activities. Not so much. It’s just that deer season is set, at least partially, to encompass the time of year when deer are naturally more active. Hunters have little to do with their movements.
Besides deer becoming increasingly active, the end of daylight saving puts more vehicles on the road during the hours when deer move most. Motorists need to slow down and stay alert.
Deer become more active in autumn with the lead-up to their fall breeding season, commonly referred to as the "rut." At this time, yearling bucks disperse from the areas in which they were born and travel, sometimes several dozen miles, to find new ranges. They may be road savvy in their old territory, but clueless in their new range. Meanwhile, adult bucks more often are cruising their home ranges in search of does and they sometimes chase the does they encounter.
Young deer are often the victims. Number one, most places in our area “half-year-old” deer make up well over half the population. There are more does than bucks and most adult does berth twin fawns in early May, while most one year old does have one fawn. Between them, the new deer more than double the population of local deer.
By late autumn, think of these youngsters as “teen-agers.” They still hang out with their mother from time to time, but they don’t hesitate heading out on their own on an increasing basis as they mature. Where their mom may have learned to avoid highway crossings and try to keep their youngsters safe, the nearly full grown young deer have yet to learn these life lessons on their own. Too many only get one lesson and don’t live to get a second one.
Adding to rutting and natural dispersal behaviors, deer are more actively feeding to store energy for winter months. Many of our local deer have learned to rely more on agricultural crops, corn, soybeans and alfalfa, than to forage on the natural foods forested areas provide. As crops are harvested, deer must travel farther to fill their bellies. The more they travel the more likely drivers are to encounter deer on roads.
Remember, deer often travel in groups and walk single file. So even if one deer successfully crosses the road in front of a driver, it doesn't mean the threat is over. Another could be right behind it, in fact, bet on it.
Don't count on deer whistles mounted on your bumper to deter deer from crossing roads in front of you. Tests have never proven conclusively they work.
Watch for the reflection of deer eyes and for deer silhouettes on the shoulder of the road. If anything looks slightly suspicious, slow down.
If you drive the same roads frequently, you probably know the areas where you encounter deer most often. Slow down in these zones whether you see deer ahead or not especially between dusk and dawn.
Expect deer do unpredictable things. Sometimes they stop in the middle of the road when crossing instead of fleeing an oncoming vehicle. Sometimes they cross and quickly re-cross back from where they came. Sometimes they move toward an approaching vehicle. Assume nothing. Slow down; blow your horn to urge the deer to leave the road. Stop if the deer stays on the road; don't try to go around it.
It’s deer season both for hunters and drivers. Both groups need to be careful.
Photo: IDNR/Outdoor Indiana magazine