If you think the deadliest wild animal is a grizzly bear, a wolf, or a cougar, you’re wrong. Each year, deer kill more humans than any other animal in North America. Deer range almost everywhere in North America, except for northern Canada and Alaska, and parts of Utah. They don’t attack humans as prey; they cause car accidents.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are about 1.5 million car-deer accidents each year, and that number is rising. Those accidents kill about 150 people each year, although the number was higher in 2008 and the NHTSA expects it to be still higher in 2009. They cost at least $1.1 billion in property damage; in 1990, the cost was estimated to be over $100 million in Wisconsin alone, and Wisconsin isn’t in the top ten states for deer accidents.
Most deer-car accidents occur between October and December, which partly coincides with deer hunting season. It’s not hunting that causes the accidents, though; those three months are deer mating season. During the rest of the year, groups of deer have a fairly small home territory, and stay within it. In mating season, or “rut,” deer head out to find mates, and are more likely to stray onto roads.
So, what does that have to do with wilderness adventures? If you’ve been in the back country in the fall, you’ll probably be driving home. And you’ll probably see deer crossing signs on your route. Some drivers ignore them; a smart driver slows down, especially in the evening, and watches for deer. If you see one deer cross the road, expect more to follow and slow down accordingly. Insurance companies advise using your brights, and warn that deer whistles don’t work. Don’t swerve if a collision is unavoidable; you may hit another vehicle or a tree and cause more damage.
During the fall, wear a bright jacket to avoid becoming a hunter’s target. Good sturdy boots are also a must, and a bright flashlight of your own will help keep deer from your path. And drive carefully when heading home!