As temperatures drop, the number of white-tailed deer in wooded areas become more active due to their breeding season.
Bucks become more likely to roam in search of a partner during the height of the deer rut, which falls in the last two weeks of October and first two weeks of November, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. During the month-long breeding, deer frequent nearby roads more often, causing danger for drivers and individuals navigating heavily wooded areas.
Charles Ruth, DNR supervisor for the Deer/Turkey Project, said the shorter days within the fall and winter cause the females to ovulate, and the breeding causes a natural increase in movement.
"If these animals are on the move, then they're more likely to cross roads," Ruth said. "That's where the relationship between the rut and deer-vehicle collision come into play."
There are an estimated 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions a year in the United States, causing more than 150 fatalities and $1.1 billion in property damage, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Forty-five percent of deer-vehicle collisions happen within a 60-day period that corresponds with deer breeding season, according to a DNR news release.
Despite a persistent rumor, neither the DNR nor any other state agency will compensate motorists for injuries or damages resulting from deer collisions. Besides practicing safe and defensive driving techniques, each motorist should carry adequate collision and comprehensive insurance, the release states.
The DNR provides drivers with a list of tips that suggest using extreme caution immediately before and after sunrise or sunset, driving defensively and avoiding the urge to swerve away from the deer because the alternative could be an oncoming car or neighboring tree.
When deer are sighted well ahead of the vehicle, Ruth recommends sounding the horn several times, flicking headlights (if no oncoming traffic is present) and reducing the vehicle's speed.
"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."
Debbie Oversteet has already seen her share of deer this season, but not from her car.
After walking to the mailbox from her Clover home, she turned to find a buck standing in her driveway. She attempted to walk around the deer, but he swayed in whatever direction she swayed. Oversteet said the deer ran toward her several times as she barely dodged its antlers. Passing cars eventually scared the deer off, but the close encounter had already damaged Oversteet's psyche.
"That was pretty scary for me," she said. " A lot of people my husband talked to said the deer would've torn me apart if it got to me."
Mike Willis, communication director for the DNR, said Oversteet's is very a unusual case.
"The deer must have felt trapped or threatened in some way," he said. "They usually try to get away from people."
Oversteet's mother, Regina Albor, was on the phone with her daughter during the fiasco. She said the look of deer can be deceiving.
"Some people think deer are cute," Albor said, "but you just don't know. It's a dangerous situation because we all live in wooded areas and the deer are out there. And I know a lot of people hit them, too. Be aware, is all I'd say about that."
Ruth also issued a warning.
"Now is the time of year where these movements are at a peak," he said. "Folks need to realize that with the increased movement there's going to be more deer on the road."