It’s deer season and it’s a jungle out there

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Anyone who lives in deer country knows fall is the most dangerous time of year. It’s when deer-vehicle collisions peak. In many areas, it’s not if you hit a deer, it’s when you hit one.

Over the last 20 years I’ve hit six deer. One totaled my car, and another did $3,000 in damage. Fortunately I escaped injury in each of the collisions, but about 150 people die every year in deer-vehicle collisions.

Factors

State wildlife agencies invariably report deer-vehicle collisions rise in October and peak in November. This coincides with the peak of the rut (deer mating season) and deer hunting season. Bucks chase does with abandon; both sexes ignore traffic. And hunters disrupt the deer’s normal movement patterns.

From mid-October to mid-December, deer can appear on highways anywhere and anytime. They are most active, however, from dusk until dawn.

Pointers

So, be careful, and keep these tips in mind:

Deer are everywhere. You’re as likely to encounter one on a city street as on a rural interstate.

Deer behave unpredictably. When you see one up ahead, slow down and expect it to cross the road in front of you.

Deer are social and often move in groups. If you see one cross the road, expect more to follow.

When there’s no oncoming traffic, use high beams. They will illuminate the eyes of deer on the side of the road.

If you see a deer on the road ahead of you, brake firmly, but stay in your lane. If you swerve to avoid a 120-pound deer, you may hit an oncoming 3,000-pound vehicle, a tree or lose control of the car.

If there are young, inexperienced drivers in the family, remind them of the damage that deer can do to vehicles and people.

Finally, note where large nut trees grow along the roads you travel regularly.

Dinner time

I pass several large oaks on my way to town, and most years they produce a bumper crop of acorns. Deer love acorns. So, especially at night, I slow down when I pass those trees because I expect to see hungry deer. Rarely am I disappointed.

The growth habit of large, isolated oaks along rural roads exacerbates this problem. White oak branches grow almost horizontally and sometimes reach as far as 50 feet from the trunk. The trunk may be a safe distance from the road, but the acorn laden branches can hang directly above the roadway.

And, of course, deer aren’t the only wildlife attracted to fallen nuts. Turkeys, chipmunks, gray fox and red squirrels scramble for fallen nuts. Blue jays, red-bellied woodpeckers and nuthatches also love acorns. So I’ve learned to slow down whenever I pass a tree heavy with acorns.

I’ve also learned to use fallen acorns as a source of inexpensive bird food. Each fall I spend a few days collecting bags of acorns, which I store in the garage. Timing is critical, however. Newly fallen nuts don’t last long, so it’s best to get a head start on all the wildlife that loves acorns and other nuts.

In November, I begin to offer the nuts I’ve collected. I put out a handful each day because my supply is limited. But the woodpeckers, jays, and nuthatches seem to really appreciate my effort.

Buy online

If that all sounds like too much work, and you don’t have an energetic child or grandchild to gather the nuts, you can buy nuts online. At Vermont-based www.acorno.com, white oak acorns sell for $1.25 per pound, red oak acorns for $2 per pound, and hickory nuts for $6 per pound.

If you decide to collect or purchase acorns for wildlife, understand you are creating hot spot for all kinds of wildlife, including bears. So if you know there are bears in the area, do not offer acorns. And be prepared for more wildlife around your feeding station. Food is a magnet for wildlife, and that means more potential victims for speeding vehicles.

Accidents happen, but by knowing the roads and habitat close to home and expecting the unexpected, accidents can be minimized. So, be careful. It’s a jungle out there.

About the Author

Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. Send questions and comments to scottshalaway@gmail.com. You can also visit his Web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com. More Stories by Scott Shalaway

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