The time change affects both humans and wildlife.
Photo by Paul O. Boisvert
When the first week of November rolls around, drivers are more apt to notice dead deer along the sides of highways. You may have heard that hunting is the cause – that hunters scare deer from the woods and that the roving animals are then more likely to be struck by cars. This is not true.
But a human activity does play a major role in the surge of deer and vehicle accidents that occurs each fall. It’s actually an indoor activity: we set our clocks back, ending daylight savings time.
“White-tailed deer are most active at dawn and dusk,” explains Shawn Haskell, deer team chair for the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game. Male deer, especially, are roaming to find does, and “are not paying quite as much attention to what is going on around them.” The rut peaks about mid-November, but bucks begin moving as early as mid-October.
Last year, 3,740 accidents involving deer were reported to state game wardens in Vermont, says Vermont’s current Fish and Wildlife law enforcement director Colonel David LeCoers. (Typically 170 moose a year are killed by vehicles.)
In New Hampshire, Gustafson says, wardens only tally the number of the killed deer that drivers are permitted to take home for consumption. That was 1,458 deer in 2008, he says. A State Farm Insurance company report estimates that twice that number of accidents involving deer occur in the Granite State each year.
The Maine Department of Transportation says that there are over 3,000 deer-vehicle crashes are reported in that state each year. (Maine also averages 600 collisions between vehicles and moose annually.)
State Farm estimates that nationally one million vehicular accidents involving deer, moose, and elk occur each year. The states with the largest numbers of such accidents are Pennsylvania, averaging nearly 100,000, and Michigan, with 95,000.
White-tailed deer are common, in some places, perhaps too common. For that reason, officials say that the number of deer killed by cars in the region is not a major concern from a wildlife management perspective. But there is an undeniable human toll. In each state, dozens of drivers are injured, sometimes fatally. Rooks says that in Vermont, about every five years a highway accident involving a deer results in a human death, and often the victim is a motorcyclist. Each year, about one person in each state is killed in an accident involving moose.
There is no single proven way to limit accidents with deer, says Sarah Barnum, who works for the environmental consulting firm Some western states recently have installed signs that flash lights when detectors sense a large animal in the road; and some states put up special deer-crossing signs only at the times of year known to be most risky for drivers.
Experts emphasize the importance of basic precautions. They suggest motorists heed all deer-warning signs along the highway. Deer travel in groups, so be on the lookout for a second, third or fourth deer after you’ve seen the first cross the road. Drive slowly and be extra alert at this time of year at dawn and dusk. The last place you want to see a deer is caught in your own headlights.