As Fall fades to Winter in the Northwoods, people are busy readying themselves for the coming months finishing up yardwork and winterizing the car, hanging Christmas lights and planning holiday menus, tuning up the snowmobiles and putting finishing touches on the ice shack. It's a great time to be living in the Northwoods as the colorful Fall foliage gives way to bare tree branches sagging under the weight of sparkling lily-white snow. The temperature dips and the clear, clean waters of area lakes turn to diamond-hard ice that will serve as simple roadways, connecting opposite lakeshores, until the ice melts back into the Spring-warmed waters.
Yes, the Northwoods are a truly beautiful place to call home but people aren't the only residents that are busy bustling about during the Fall our local deer population is quite active in the later months of the year, as well. Unfortunately, all of this activity often leads to even more vehicle deer collisions than normal during the Fall and Winter months.
At Nicolet Service Center, we see a fair number of accidents caused by deer collisions and, while some are fairly minor, others can be devastating. As a service, we've compiled a number of things to keep in mind as you travel across the Northwoods that, hopefully, will minimize your odds of meeting a deer head-on in your lane. Of course, there is no way to guarantee that you will never hit a deer. With that in mind, we believe that your best defense lies in knowing what to do to when you see deer along the roads and preparing yourself for quick, yet calm, thinking should you be faced with a deer jumping out in front of your car.
Be sure to share the following tips and ideas with your loved ones - especially new drivers - to keep them safe, too. Drive carefully and enjoy the holiday season - we hope we don't see you real soon!
A Little Deer Data
Currently, a typical year across the state of Wisconsin will see nearly 45,000 deer struck and killed by motor vehicles. That's roughly 12,000 more than just a decade ago. Tragically, humans can also lose their lives or be injured when caught in a vehicle/deer collision - 7 people died and over 730 were hurt in 1997 alone which is more than 2 times the number of fatalities than in 1996. As more roads carry more traffic to more areas of the state and deer are forced to cross these roads to find food, shelter, and mates, the number of car/deer collisions is likely to continue to increase.
While deer are certainly present in residential and city areas, the bulk of vehicle /deer collisions occur on roadways that travel through our fertile farm and dairy lands and through the thousands of acres of forests that make up our beautiful state. A recent Michigan study showed that the increase in vehicle miles traveled is 2 ½ times more likely to have an influence on the number of vehicle/deer collisions than changes in the size of the annual deer herd. Every year, Wisconsin drivers travel an additional 800 million miles more on rural highways than in the previous year. As these numbers increase so do the odds that you will be forced to make the split-second decisions required to avoid or minimize a vehicle/deer collision.
Deer accidents can happen any day of the year at any time of the day - diligence is required to reduce your chances of striking a deer no matter when you drive on Wisconsin roadways. However, as we move into Fall and Winter, it is even more important to be aware that there may be deer springing up in the path of your vehicle.
A number of factors influence deer activity year-round though there are 3 things that tend to have a greater influence in the Fall months - food, mating, and the hunting season. Let's examine each:
As you may know, deer are herbivores, which means that they depend on vegetation for sustenance. As Fall approaches, the forests and woods dry out. Vegetation dies and trees drop their leaves, which forces the deer to leave the relative security of the forests to forage for adequate food. This often means that deer will be edging closer to roadways as they seek out the grass and vegetation along the roads and highways. In areas of recent road construction, for example, there may be freshly seeded grass or newly laid sod. Even if deer are not actually feeding on the grasses alongside roadways, they will be forced to cross the roads to continue to search for food. This can often mean that they are many more deer crossing particular areas of roadway during the Fall months.
In late October and early November, deer enter their annual mating/breeding season. As bucks instinctually pursue does with the goal of mating, they will often be less cautionary near roads or highways. This can lead to not only the bucks being more likely to enter or cross the roadways but also does will be chased into traffic by the bucks. It may be hard for humans to understand that deer (like many animals) cannot control their instincts nor think logically. When pursuing a possible mate or being pursued by, deer do NOT have the ability to stop and think about the consequences of jumping into the road and in front of a car, truck, or other vehicle. This lack of control over their instincts is what often drives them directly into hazardous situations when normally they may have simply stopped and waited or turned and run when they see or hear vehicles.
With bow season and then gun season right after, deer are often in transit as they attempt to avoid becoming a target for the many hunters that venture into the woods each year. Again this is an instinctual behavior that many times brings the deer closer to roads and highways as they seek refuge from arrows and bullets.
When you realize that all 3 of the above conditions (along with specific local influences) affect deer every day, it's pretty easy to understand why deer are more active during the Fall and Winter than at other times during the year. As a driver, your best bet is to be aware that these months carry with them an increased responsibility on your part if you want to be safe. Drive smart, stay safe.
So, what can you do to avoid hitting a deer? As mentioned before, there is NO guarantee that you will never have to deal with a vehicle/deer collision. Indeed, it is the rare Wisconsin driver that has never had close calls with deer at some point in their driving career. By following the tips below, we hope that at the worst all you'll have to deal with is close calls.
Vehicle/deer collisions are nothing new and likely will continue to be a problem for generations to come if for no other reason than we continue to drive more miles through more deer country each year. Faster travel on bigger highways and freeways means less time to react and more possibility for accidents to occur. At Nicolet Service Center, we want you to be as safe as possible as you travel our highways and roads and hope that these tips will help keep you and your loved ones safe year-round!
Ó J.Ramsey, 1999