The people who run wildlife departments in the various states occasionally have to let the public know that they’re on the job. A case in point is Pennsylvania Game Commission executive director Carl G. Roe who recently sent a missive advising motorists to slow down after sundown and before sunrise to reduce their risk of striking a deer.
I do believe that most motorists already know that — particularly when you live (as I do) in a very rural part of a state. The residents in my home area, Charles County, Md., are so cognizant of the presence of large numbers of whitetailed deer that some of them are beginning to give them nicknames. One neighbor who is a farmer with soy bean fields that draw deer like a magnet, recently saw a large doe lying by the side of the road, struck and killed by an automobile. “Oh, no,” he said. “That’s Henrietta. She’s been bringing her fawns by the house to show ’em off for the past 4 years. I gave her the name because I kind of recognize her above all the others I see almost every day.”
A good friend, Bob Rice, who lives in St. Mary’s County, Md., has an entire family of deer visit his backyard and the adjacent woods, completely assured apparently that no harm will come to them. Mr. Rice, however, is a deer hunter; it’s just that he won’t hunt the deer that he’s come to know so well around his house.
The Pennsylvania game boss, Mr. Roe, of course is totally correct when advising drivers to watch out for the split-hooved ruminants that are as smart as rocket scientists one moment and dumb as dirt the next. Perhaps the dumb part is uncalled for, but the sad fact of the matter is that deer never learn to judge how quickly a metal-clad machine can cover a given distance. Besides, why is it that so many deer wait until a car or truck is nearly upon them before deciding to cross the road?
In 1998, while living in a secluded part of the county within sight of the tidal Potomac River, I spotted a small herd of deer running across a barren field toward the paved lane I was driving on. I stopped completely and waited for them to cross the road. All of them did — except one.
While I sat perfectly still, engine idling, one of the deer changed direction and ran smack into the side of my pickup truck. Let me repeat, I was sitting still, not moving. The collision put a huge dent into the right door of the truck and now it lay spread out on the street. Being a hunter and a connoisseur of venison I jumped from the vehicle, reached into a large tool box in the back where I kept a good, sharp hunting knife and bent over to field-dress the deer and make good use of meat. (Yes, I was going to get in touch with the State Police or the Natural Resources cops to report all this.)
When my hand grabbed a handful of skin to begin the field-dressing process, the deer arose with a loud snort and it nearly jumped into my face, then ran off into the nearby woods without missing a beat. It apparently had knocked itself out temporarily — and I nearly suffered a coronary.
The Game Commission head also mentioned one thing that all drivers must truly pay attention to. It’s the occasion when a motorist observes several deer cross a road and the driver has to make a decision: have they all crossed or are more coming along a hundred yards behind the others? Put your money on the latter. More deer are struck by motorists who slowed down or even stopped as they watched the animals cross a highway; then stepped on the accelerator to continue and — Bingo! — along came two or three that had lagged behind. Remember, deer are social animals that most of the time like being with their own kind. The lone exception is the rutting male deer. He doesn’t like anybody except a comely female and when he’s done mating, he’ll disappear again to be alone.
On that subject, remember that the mating season will arrive later next month or in November, depending on temperature and moon cycles. When it happens, watch out because if a buck picks up the scent of a doe in estrus (willing to mate), he’ll put his nose to the ground and cross an 8-lane Interstate highway if he has to just to be with the opposite sex.
“The personal tragedies and property losses that are caused by deer-vehicle collisions touch the lives of Pennsylvanians statewide,” Mr. Roe said.
He may as well also have added every state on the East Coast, in the Mid-West, West and South — there are so many deer these days.