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Where the does are: A deer in the backyard of David Cauthen’s Hartselle home last week.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Where the does are: A deer in the backyard of David Cauthen’s Hartselle home last week.

Motorists to pay the price of love
’Tis the season for deer to appear in your headlights; they’re in a rut

By Holly Hollman · 340-2445

Some pay deerly for love.

Say about $38 million a year in Alabama.

Now it’s due to loving food. In a few months, it’ll be due to loving loving.

According to insurance companies, wildlife officials and an Auburn University study, October through February is the time of year drivers are most likely to collide with a deer.

Jim Armstrong, professor at the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn, said the study he co-authored reviewed deer-vehicle collisions in the state between 1994 and 2003 and found there were 27,780 collisions in those 10 years. The cost in property damage, using 2005 dollars, was $376 million, or $38 million a year.

The collisions also injured 2,302 people and killed 33.

“Food is scare right now. They want to feed more to keep their body weight up for the winter,” said Ron Eakes, supervising wildlife biologist for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries at Tanner. “As they get into the rutting season in January and February, you’ll see more of them.”

Eakes said some deer in southern Lawrence County are in rutting season now.

Drivers may think to watch out for deer only while driving through areas like Swan Creek Wildlife Refuge, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge or Bankhead National Forest.

Think again.

The Auburn study found that 80 percent of the accidents occurred in rural areas near urban centers.

“I saw one that was hit in Decatur on Highway 24,” Eakes said. “And there was the deer that ran into a Decatur school in May. We’re near the refuge, so you can see deer throughout this area, including even downtown Decatur.”

Athens policeman and avid hunter Doug Duren said he smacked into a deer two years ago on U.S. 72 in the Coxey community west of Athens.

“I was carrying a juvenile to Tuscumbia’s detention center when it ran in front of me, and I T-boned it,” Duren said. “We weren’t injured, but it did a lot of damage to my police car, about $2,000 worth.”

Bow season started Oct. 13, and Duren has spotted deer inside the Athens city limits on his hunts. He saw eight on a Saturday morning on Edgewood Road, and is also seeing them on West Elm Street and East Forrest Street.

“There was a lot of corn planted this year, and they are hanging around those cornfields in those areas,” Duren said.

Unfortunately, the deer tend to be on the prowl for food and mates the same time drivers clog the roads.

“They are on the move during the gray times of day like dawn and dusk,” Eakes said. “That coincides with our rush hours, when people are headed to work, and when they are headed home.”

State Farm Insurance lists Alabama as a medium risk state for deer-vehicle collisions. According to its study, Alabama drivers have a 1 in 197 chance of hitting a deer.

The top state for deer collisions was West Virginia, where drivers have a 1 in 57 chance of hitting a deer.

David Rickey, a spokesman for the insurance company ALFA, said the company received about 4,000 claims for deer-related accidents since this time last year.

State Farm said the average property damage per wreck is $2,900.

“When you hit a deer, or when a deer hits you, you can have a busted windshield, dents, hood and grill damage and headlight damage,” Duren said.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that more than 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions occur each year nationwide, resulting in over $1 billion in vehicle damage.

Eakes said there is no evidence that deer whistles attached to cars prevent a collision.

Duren said the best advice he can give motorists is to slow down and remember deer tend to travel in herds.

“Slow down at dusk and early morning, and if you see one run across the road, remember that there very well could be two or three more following it,” he said.

Deer wisdom

Some things you should know if you hit a deer:

  • If you need an accident report for insurance, call a law enforcement agency.

  • Notify your insurance company.

  • It is illegal to take one home unless you have a hunting license and it is hunting season, and you have to count a buck against the three-buck limit.

  • In Limestone and Lawrence counties, you can call a county commissioner to dispose of the deer. Morgan County’s animal control or commissioners will put lime on or bury dead deer left on the roadside.

    Controlling the numbers

    Avid hunter and Athens police officer Doug Duren offers these tips for hunters to help keep the deer population controlled:

  • Hunters tend to want bucks, but they need to shoot does because deer are “prolific animals.”

  • Hunters worried about killing more than they can eat can take their field-dressed deer to Clark’s Processing in Limestone County on Red Hill Hollow Road. The company will process the meat at no cost and donate it to a feed- the-hungry program.

    Holly Hollman

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