Enquirer Herald

Brad Harvey: S.C. warns Palmetto State motorists about deer

On the heels of the news that South Carolina ranks 10th nationally in deer/vehicle collisions, our state’s Department of Natural Resources has just released a warning to motorists that this is the time of year to stay alert.

“Sound deer management through regulated annual harvests (hunting) is the most effective way of curtailing deer/vehicle collisions, but following some common-sense rules for driving defensively in deer country will make the trip safer,” said Charles Ruth, DNR’s director of the Deer and Turkey Project.

To lower the risk of hitting a deer, it helps to know a few things that are well understood by hunters as we chase them this time of year.

No. 1 on this list would be to recognize when deer movement is at its greatest.

Dusk and dawn are prime time for deer travel, making both periods of “rush hour” a likely time for accidents.

If you’re heading to and from work, slow down and keep your eyes focused on the road. Setting your alarm to wake you a few minutes earlier each day so that you can carefully take your time is much better than finding yourself calling in to the office to let them know that you’re not going to make it at all.

This is more true if someone else has to make the call to work for you because you’re taking a ride with the coroner.

“Pay attention to changes in habitat types along the highway,” Ruth said. “The zone between habitat types is a likely place for deer to cross a road. Creek bottoms and where agricultural fields meet woodlands are also prime areas for deer to cross roadways.”

If deer are spotted well ahead of you, Ruth said, he recommends blowing the horn several times, flashing the high beams (if no oncoming traffic is present) and slowing so you might avoid hitting one.

Just don’t try these tactics if the deer are closer to you.

According to the DNR, “If deer are sighted only a short distance in front of the vehicle, these same collision-avoidance techniques – horn and flicking lights – may spook the deer into running across the road, thereby increasing the likelihood of a collision. So in that case, it’s best to just slow down.”

Always anticipate more than one deer to cross the road, as the likelihood of more deer being present than what is seen is very high.

Never expect them to just get out of your way.

The agency adds: “Motorists should understand that deer-crossing signs – diamond-shaped signs bearing the silhouette of a deer – mark a stretch of road where deer have been hit previously. However, these signs do not mark specific deer trails.

“Deer may frequently cross for several miles where the signs are posted. Studies show that about 45 percent of deer-vehicle collisions occur in roughly a 60-day period that corresponds with the deer-breeding season.

“In South Carolina, the deer-breeding season, or rut, is generally during the months of October and November.”

There are no easy answers.

In hopes of reducing our risk of hitting deer, many people search out various products and gadgets “guaranteed” to keep that old buck out of your path.

I’ve seen everything from electronic sirens to “heat detecting” gizmos that supposedly make you aware of wildlife that are hiding just off the road’s edge. The most popular of all time has to be the “deer whistle,” a little plastic device that mounts on your bumper and, supposedly, scares the deer away by emitting an “ultrasonic” sound as air passes through it.

Well, save your money. None of it works. Numerous studies have shown that, although the animals may actually hear something, it doesn’t have any real effect on them.

I’ve hit a deer. Now what?

“Report the incident to the state Highway Patrol or local law enforcement and to your insurance company,” Ruth said.

Many will be surprised to know this, but more often than not, someone wants to know if they can keep the deer to eat.

This is actually not a problem as long as there is an incident report taken by law enforcement that proves the deer was killed by a vehicle collision and not illegally shot.

Despite many jokes about eating “roadkill,” there shouldn’t be a problem with meat that has been harvested by a Cadillac instead of a gun or bow, as long as it’s a fresh kill.

The same tactics should be used just as if the animal was taken by hunting, which include skinning and cleaning the animal as soon as possible.

Tenth in the nation? Really?

Despite the fact that it’s true that South Carolina ranks high among states for the likelihood of a deer collision, the reality is that this ranking presents a bit of a skewed picture.

In 2013 there were more than 2,000 accidents resulting from deer on our roads, which is about average for us in recent years.

The numbers were actually much higher back in the 1990s. Many states, such as those in the Northeast and upper-Midwest, see collisions that number as high as 50,000 annually.

Kinda makes our couple thousand seem a bit paltry, huh?

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.