Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Roads and Deer (Not Venison-Related)

Back in decades past, the University of Georgia did a lot of research on the hearing of deer. Don’t ask me why they did this, but trust me that they did. I found this out when I was calling around talking to assorted deer experts in connection with an idea I had for a product that was going to keep those pesky deer out of folk’s gardens. It was all about sonic deer deterrence. The sad result of this research was that deer basically hear the same frequencies that humans hear, although they hear those frequencies in a much more sensitive manner, since they can not only swivel their ears, but their ears are cupped and huge.

If deer hear what we hear, then those deer whistler doo dads that people attach to their front bumpers are completely ineffective. Do you hear any racket coming out of your deer whistlers as you motor down the road? Of course you don’t, and neither do the deer. There’s no telling how many millions of dollars have been wasted on worthless deer whistler sales over the decades, yet they are still being made and sold.

Deer and auto collisions are a very big deal, especially in deer country like Texas. During breeding season, known as “the rut”, sex-crazed bucks are the most likely to run right in front of (or into) your vehicle while they are chasing a doe, or battling it out with another buck for the right to chase some doe. In Texas the rut occurs in November and December, and if there’s any doubt about when it starts or ends, just check with your local auto body shop. You can also look at how fat and sassy the buzzards are that time of the year. In the U.S. every year there are 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions, costing an estimated $1 billion dollars. Of these, about 6% cause human injuries, and some even cause death. My insurance agent has told me horror stories about people from my own area getting killed by deer hurtling through their windshields, or fatalities caused by people swerving off the road to avoid deer and running into trees. I have a friend that sliced completely through the midsection of a deer on his very fast motorcycle one night; the deer died instantly, my friend spent three months in the hospital and almost died.

In these parts, collisions with feral hogs can also be a problem, and the rules for driving with deer apply to them as well. Deer are most active along the roads at dusk and dawn and very late at night when some drivers are seeing double or are tired and nodding-off. Deer especially like to cross roads near the crests of hills, and will often travel in groups, so if you see one cross the road, expect more to be following. During the rut, bucks are just plain nuts, so expect deer to come flying out of anywhere during November and December. Deer will often feed right along the edge of the road, especially during droughts, so watch for their eyes to illuminate in your headlights and be ready to stop if necessary. If they are focused on feeding they will probably ignore you as you drive past. Whenever you see a deer crossing sign, trust that it knows what it’s warning you about; they get placed based on patrol incident reports and feedback from the crews that pickup animal carcasses, as well as the blood spatter stains on the surface of the road.

If you see deer along the roadway slow down if at all possible and let them do their thing. Don’t honk your horn unless you absolutely have to, as this startles the deer, including the ones that you don’t see just off of the road. Whatever you do, never leave the roadway to avoid a deer collision; hitting a deer will mess up your vehicle, but a deer moves when it’s hit, and lots of trees, culverts, big rocks, etc. do not. If you successfully pass deer along the road and want to warn an oncoming vehicle of the deer’s presence, hit your warning lights. Some experts tell you to hit your high beams, but that can send mixed signals (cops ahead, dim your lights asshole, etc). When a driver sees you hit your warning lights, you can take it to be a legitimate warning.

Out where I live, on the edge of the Texas Hillcountry, deer collisions are a real concern. Maybe they aren’t that big a deal where you live, but at some point you’ll have to drive on a rural road (or even on Mopac) during the deer witching hours, and this bit of practical advice might just come in handy. You’re welcome, Mick

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