That time of year is once again upon us, a time to be vigilant and aware of our white tailed woodland friends sprinting across highways and country roads. As much as it might seem like an odd phenomenon it’s actually a normal part of a deer’s life and to be expected. As the daylight hours quickly wane and temperatures begin to drop we all feel a sense of calm and serenity during those breezy, cooler autumn days amid yellow, orange and red tree lines. Well, all of us except those magnificent forest dwellers - the deer. While birds react to this seasonal change by flying south for winter and hibernating creatures such as the groundhog begin storing up fat to sleep the coming frost filled months away, these subtle changes in temperature and daylight set off a course of action of what can only be described as insanity for our Missouri white tailed deer.
A deer’s gestation period is 201 days, so it is imperative that her new fawns will be born at the perfect time in the spring to be large enough to survive the following winter. She sends this once a year mating signal to her male counterparts with a scent referred to as estrus which creates a month plus long game of hide and seek with the veracity of a sense of life or death in the minds of the mindless hormonally overloaded buck. In the summertime bucks actually roam the forest and grasslands together much like a group of men searching for a brat and a Pale Ale at a summer craft festival. Come autumn it is each man for himself and even the hint of competition is likely to end in a bloody brawl. The winner gets the doe, and in Darwinian terms, it’s a gene thing. The biggest strongest bucks get to pass their genes on to the healthiest does, and consequently the next generation. Once the chase is on, nothing and I mean nothing stands in the way of the chasing buck or the running doe, including your car. This crazy breeding season is referred to simply as… The Rut.
According to the Missouri Federation for Conservation the onset of the rut (pre-rut) begins around September 12th, with the peak of the rut occurring around the first week of November and not entirely ending until sometime in late November. The most recent report from the Missouri Highway Patrol from 2011 details deer involved traffic accidents at 3,563 with 376 injuries and 4 fatalities. Most of these accidents occurred between 5:00 pm and 6:59 am. Per The Insurance Journal, the United States has 200 deaths per year that occur from car accidents involving deer at a cost of $4 billion dollars a year. According to the Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration 2014 saw 3,720 deer related Missouri accidents- one every 2.4 hours. The site offers advice on how to ensure your insurance covers any damage caused by such an accident after changes in Missouri vehicle insurance laws from House Bill 1022. There is also the recommendation to not swerve to avoid hitting a deer when that could in turn create yet another accident.
So what do you do if you hit a deer? You treat it like any other accident, report it to your local police department and call your insurance company- though as mentioned earlier now is the time to make sure your insurance policy fully covers this type of accident. If you would like to consume the deer or have it donated for food for the underprivileged, you must first contact your county conservation agent with the Missouri Department of Conservation for authorization.
Bottom line- be vigilant, especially in the low light and dark hours of the day. It doesn’t hurt to slow down a little during those hours which give you a better chance to avoid hitting a deer. If you see a deer, expect there to be more to come. Does especially travel together and fawns stay with their mothers for up to two years.
Here’s to safe and happy travels!
By Guest Blogger: Audrey Elder - See more of Audrey's blogs at Past to Present Research