If you haven't already noticed, it's that time of year again when the deer come bounding from the woods and into your cars.
Why do they do this?
Is it the cool crispness of the air?
Is it the hunters stomping through the woods looking for a prize buck?
Do the deer step on the fallen leaves and become startled?
Do they have something personal against your motor vehicle of choice?
It's the time of year the deer go into Rut.
What is Rut?
The rut is a time, starting as early as September 21st and running as late as mid January, when a doe enters her estrus cycle (is ready to reproduce). The bucks pick up on this and will pick and follow does for miles, fighting off competitors, chasing does for distances, all for the chance to reproduce. A sturdy 200 lb buck can go down to 140 lbs by the end of the rut, there's no time to stop and eat as the competitors are continually trying to hone in on the does. (see additional reading for an in-depth look at a day in rut).
Noah and I were lucky this year to catch some young bucks in some pre-rut sparring. Sparring is when bucks push and shove each other, lock antlers, and wrestle each other to the ground. Generally this is light and playful but on occasion (usually in full rut) it can be used to do serious harm.
Another sign is scraping on trees, deer rub their antlers on trees to remove the velvet on their antlers, as well as define territorial lines, and to communicate to other deer.
I'm in a car, there's a deer, what do I do?
Being aware is the first step of avoiding collision with a deer.
-knowing where deer crossing signs are
-knowing when deer are most active (5pm-midnight and 5am-8am)
-keep in mind that deer travel in packs, if you see one there's likely to be more nearby.
-watch along ditches and off shoulders at night for glowing eyes, this is the first sign there may be deer about.
-do not rely on 'deer whistles' there is no evidence of these working.
Often times deer will come out of nowhere and you won't have the luxury of deciding what to do, but if you come upon a deer in the road there are a few things to keep in mind.
If you're driving slow and there's no one around/light traffic - slow down and do not swerve. Turn off your lights (if possible) or flash your lights and beep your horn. Deer go into a trance and become disoriented at the sight of bright lights and once they're fixated on your beams it's hard to break that trance.
If you're on a state route or highway - do not swerve, hitting the deer is the safest (albeit gut wrenching) route, this deer is going to do less damage to you than the semi truck in the other lane.* Brake, pull over, assess damages.
*only exception to this rule is with moose, they're basically the same as a compact car on stilts.
If you can drive your vehicle after hitting said deer - Continue to your destination. Make note of time, location, damage, take photos, and send information to your auto insurer asap. Do not go near the deer, many times they will be in shock and can jump up at any time injuring you and themselves, it's safest to give them space. If the deer is laying in the road, call the authorities immediately.
If your vehicle is inoperable or if injuries have occurred - call emergency services immediately.
I found this article "Secrets of the rut" to be interesting. A photographer following a whitetail buck through the rut patterns. I highly recommend checking it out.
Since 2015 we have been exploring and sharing all the amazing things we’ve found in nature.
Emily is an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist who is most often found out in the woods.