Motivated deer are on the move; motorists beware

Annual mating season drives bucks into way of Triangle traffic

jwise@newsobserver.comNovember 18, 2012 

  • Avoiding deer encounters The University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center offers this advice on avoiding run-ins with deer: • Slow down. In areas with a large deer population, or where there are deer warning signs, drivers should reduce their speed. • Always wear your seat belt. It’s your best protection from injuries in the event of a crash. • Watch for eyes reflecting in your headlights. Try to look far down the road and scan the roadsides, especially when driving through field edges, heavily wooded areas, or posted deer crossing areas. • Remember that deer travel in herds. If you see one deer cross the road in front of you, don’t assume that all is clear. • Do not place confidence in “deer whistles” or other ultra-sonic devices that claim to prevent deer collisions.

Beatrice Chemutai Sigei was driving home on U.S. 15-501 in Durham when, all of a sudden, something jumped right in front of her.

“I realized it was a deer,” she said – just an instant before she felt the impact. Sigei wasn’t hurt, but her Toyota suffered $7,000 worth of damage.

“It was really big,” she said.

That was Nov. 3; five days later, she said, she narrowly missed another deer on the road.

“I don’t know what’s going on with the deer,” Sigei said.

What’s going on is the annual rut – mating season, when male deer are on the move looking for mates. It’s also peak season for collisions between deer and motor vehicles.

“You can always tell when a rut is in its peak,” said Greg Batts, a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “All you’ve got to do is drive around I-540 and count the number of deer from the end of 540 to the airport. I’ve been around there seen 10 or 12 deer in the morning that got hit overnight.

“(Wake County) will pick them up every night and there’ll be 8 or 10 there the next morning.”

Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews issued a statement last week urging Triangle-area drivers to be extra careful.

• According to the state DOT, 90 percent of animal-vehicle collisions involve deer. In 2009 through 2011, there were 61,046 such collisions reported in North Carolina, including 17 fatalities. Almost half – 29,706 – occurred in October, November and December; 13,554 in November alone.

• Orange, Durham and Wake counties had 1,745 animal-vehicle collisions in 2011, 962 in the last three months of the year.

Of 18 cars in the shop, Alex Pelliccia of the Raleigh Collision auto body shop said last week, 10 were having deer damage repaired.

“Every year, it happens the same way,” he said.

“This time of year, we see a minimum of one a day,” said Bobby Redford at Brown Brothers body shop in Durham. “Sometimes five. ... It’s just the season.”

The season of the rut

During the rut, Batts said, “there’s a ton of movement” by male deer, which extend their ranges farther than in the rest of the year. With their minds on does, the bucks also go a little nuts.

“That’s exactly what it is,” he said. The rut is at its peak from about the last week in October through Thanksgiving, “and then you’ll notice a drop-off in the number of deer getting hit by cars.” But it’s not over yet – female deer which have not bred will come back into rut about 28 days later, “So you have a second little rut,” Batts said.

Moreover, said Wildlife Resources spokeswoman Carolyn Rickard, “They’re fattening up for winter, so they’re moving around in search of food.” And, days are short.

“Deer tend to move at dawn and dusk and rush hour, now that the days are shorter, is at dawn and dusk,” she said. “More cars are on the road when deer are most active.”

Most deer-car crashes happen out in the country, but they are not uncommon in town.

• Raleigh Police spokesman Jim Sughrue did not have numbers, but he said he’s heard officers being dispatched to deal with deer-involved accidents.

• Morrisville Police have responded to four this fall, which left a total of $7,000 in vehicle damage, said Capt. Charles Wilson.

• Cary has had 37 deer-related crashes, said Crime Analyst Elise R. Pierce.

• Durham Police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said more than 80 have been reported in the city since Oct. 1.

Sigei’s was one of those. It happened near Duke University’s West Campus, where Duke Forest, the Duke golf course, woodsy residential areas and creek bottoms afford plenty of cover and movement corridors for deer. Five days after she hit the deer, Sigei said, she narrowly missed a second.

“Something should be done,” she said. Best thing is, be careful.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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