A deer can suddenly cross in front of your vehicle, especially on rural roads or at nightfall. Understanding deer behavior will help reduce the chance of your front bumper being struck by a deer. Your car could be severely damaged by a collision with deer. Your natural instinct to avoid an accident could actually increase your risk. This article is based on my experiences as a driver and from conversations with insurance clients.
The Reason They Are Here
Wildlife such as deer are an integral part of the natural landscape. The fact that we have built roads and houses here does not mean that deer aren’t allowed to roam the wild lands nearby. Deer love to roam around our neighborhood, and they are attracted by the tasty bushes and weeds (think of roses like “deer candy”) Deer can become accustomed to certain vegetation types, such as drought conditions. However, ditches filled with succulent weeds can also be a great place to find “what’s for dinner.”
The Whitetail Deer is our native deer species (the white tail is evident). Texas’ whitetail deer population is between 3-4 million. Whitetail Bucks (male deer), can weigh up to 150 lbs, and measure six feet tall. They also have large antlers that can be grown by the Fall. Whitetail Does (female Deer) weigh in at 90 to 100 lbs. They are shorter and have no antlers. Fawns are baby deer.
Think like Bambi
As a group, deer have very predictable instinctual behavior.
The Spring is home to many fawn and doe family groups. As they age, bucks become lonely. Deer will find food sources that bring them together, including their favorite roadside patches of weeds.
Driving Tip: Expect to see other deer clan members when you are driving.
The deer is territorial and will often stay close to their home to feed on their favorite weed patches. You are more likely to see the same “local group”, if you’ve seen them before. Deer naturally tend to stick to the same area and will forage in areas that are not suitable for them. Deer will be found where their food is.
The seasonal cycle of deer can have an impact on their behavior.
Our local deer get wild in the late October “The Rut”, or breeding season. A buck is following a doe who darts in front of your car with unwelcome intentions. They are not paying attention to the road or the huge vehicles travelling at high speeds on it. Late fall is a dangerous time for sudden high-speed deer encounters.
Winter can bring deer populations closer to people, as they will forage in neighborhoods where their natural food source is less. Deer can also eat your garden and surprise you on the way to work or home at night. An unpredicted deer will run in a surprising direction if it is startled. This instinct is part of nature. Slow down if you see a group deer foraging, and then let them go.
The fawns usually appear in May, which is the start of spring. Does and their broods will often startle you. Two fawns are usually born to each does. In spring, there is a lot of vegetation. Deer may still be seen on our roads, but encounters with them will be much less frequent.
Deer can enjoy a summer full of food, and herds may disappear into the woods. Deer will travel far beyond their normal range in search of moist green plants. This is especially true when Summer is in a drought situation, like it was in 2011. The deer will seek out weeds and food along roadsides. Deer encounters with cars will pose the greatest danger during drought.
Although deer can adapt to many landscapes, they evolved as forest dwellers.
Deer can be seen if you travel through wooded areas. Deer country is any wooded or bushy area, even your tree-lined street. The wood and brush are used by deer to hide. Deer use the wooded areas as natural feeding areas and roads are built in these areas.
Just before sunset, you are driving home and suddenly a deer jumps into your path. It is important to know how to handle this “deer encounter”.
It is best to slow down quickly, but not to apply the brakes fully. It is best to avoid a collision with a 100-pound animal. However, a sudden emergency brake response will send your vehicle nose-down, scooping the deer onto your hood, increasing your chances of it sliding into your windshield. A collision with your radiator and grill can cause severe damage to the deer and even kill it. You could be seriously hurt if you collide with your windshield.
A normal response to deer encounters is to veer off of the deer. Avoiding a car-deer collision is a good idea. However, you could end up in a worse situation if you lose your control or hit another vehicle, tree, or object. When deer are startled, they can run in any direction you choose and may even move to the spot where you shifted. Your auto’s shock absorber is best at the front if you have an accident. It is best to slow down and keep straight.
Many hunters have pickup trucks with deer guards in the front. This allows them to reduce damage and prevent front-on collisions with deer. It can be an excellent safeguard if you live in an area that has a high deer population.
Auto highlights can transfix deer, especially high beams. My hunter friend suggested flashing your lights and honking your horn to distract them. The goal is for the deer react to your car and move away from danger.
There is no one rule that will prevent you from running into a deer on the road. Your best defense is to be alert in deer habitat, and to slow down in the evening especially in wooded areas. Be cautious when deer are visible. Expect sudden movements and more deer.
It was a pleasure to see the deer and their adorable babies along the road. They are part of our world. Expect a deer encounter if you travel in rural areas.
Ross Gray Insurance Agency, David W. Crump
I am a specialist in the sales and service of personal, health and business insurance.