Dodging Deer

By ROB BREEDING for the Flathead Beacon

I read a story the other day that warned that it was deer season, so precautions were in order.

The article explained the warning was for drivers. Deer season, at least as far as this article was concerned, meant the rut. And the rut means sexed up bucks are going to be searching for does.

Distracted by love, deer don’t always look both ways before crossing the road, the story concluded.

Judging by the deer carcasses that line roadways in the Northern Rockies pretty much year round, I’m convinced they rarely look before they cross, no matter their hormone levels. I’ve seen many of their ilk, standing in the borrow pits, looking across the highway at some apparently perfect patch of browse. The deer flit about nervously, suggesting that at any moment — probably the moment your vehicle reaches them — they’ll be compelled to rearrange your bodywork.

I’m surprised that over the years I’ve hit only one. On runs down the Swan for soccer trips alone. I’m sure I’ve crossed paths with thousands.

Photo by Born1945 via Flickr

Hitting a deer while driving is a drag…especially for the deer.

Hitting an animal while driving is a drag. Once, on a long road trip through Utah (sorry, I realize that phrase is redundant) I had a flock of small birds fly in front of my SUV. The birds were too small to detect on collision, but when we stopped for gas, my young daughters were traumatized by the sight of a couple of the now-dead tweeties welded to the grill by a gooey mix of feathers and avian entrails.

It was my dadly duty to properly dispose of the suicidal birds while their mom comforted the twins in the car.

Hitting critters big enough to leave a mark is another matter. At best they are an inconvenience. At worst? Do a google search for “deer vehicle collisions” and you’ll find plenty of scary photos of deer that upon impact were hurled over the hood and through the windshield. That’s a bad day for a deer, and for front-seat passengers. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that deer-vehicle collisions result in about 200 fatalities each year.

I suppose those odds are somewhere in the range of winning the lottery. But your chances increase in places where deer are plentiful. If your daily commute is from Swan Lake to Seeley Lake, just weld a big piece of scrap iron on the front of your rig right now. You are going to hit one of those buggers, soon.

Some folks swear by whistles and mount them on the bumpers of their cars, sure that the ultrasound emitted by the devices when vehicles are at highway speeds scares deer off. I think they’re a gimmick. The one noisemaker that kind of works is your horn. Anyone who has ever leaned on the horn while approaching a roadside deer, and had it stand there, staring at your car, only to have bound off in startled flight at the last second, knows what I mean by “kind of.” Usually the horn scares them off, but not always.

I’ve only killed one deer in my life, a young whitetail down in the Bitterroot during hunting season. I’m sure the deer I hit on the road lived a long and prosperous life after our collision.

I was driving back to Kalispell somewhere south of Lakeside. It was dark, but not too late. I saw the deer, standing in the middle of the road far enough off that I had time to slow down. I got on the brakes and the horn, but the fool whitetail just stood there, staring. Just as I approached the deer, the vehicle nearly stopped, I realized the opposite lane of traffic was clear and I could simply drive around the comatose whitetail, so I did. Unfortunately, that was also the moment the deer decided to spin 180 degrees and run right into my path.

I was going slow enough that all I did was knock that knucklehead over. The deer immediately scrambled upright, despite its hooves slipping on the asphalt, and scurried back into the woods.

The damage was limited to a lost license plate, and a small mark on my previously deer-free driving record.