Kentucky has an estimated one million white-tailed deer in its herd. There is a chance of a deer encounter in nearly any rural or suburban area of the state as the breeding season for whitetails approaches.
“It has to do with daylight length. Shorter days trigger hormonal changes and the breeding season,” said Tina Brunjes, big game program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “It’s already starting; road kills have started going up. It peaks around the second to third week of November.”
Now is the time for drivers to slow down and be careful to avoid hitting a deer. Wear a seatbelt – it’s the law – drive slowly and scan the road and the sides of the road, especially around wooded areas. Brunjes recommends drivers pay particular attention around dawn and dusk, when deer are most active.
“The best defense is to slow down and pay attention,” she said. “Anywhere you’ve seen deer standing beside the road, or where you’ve seen deer hit. That would be indicative of a deer trail, and a place you should be extra careful.”
Slow down if you see a deer alongside the road, even if it is just browsing in a field. Deer can move suddenly, so stay alert. Seeing one deer often means there are others close by. Avoid swerving suddenly if you encounter a deer in the road. You could go off the road or hit something else, like a car traveling in the opposite direction.
If another driver is not following you closely and you can stop safely, simply wait for the deer to move off the road. Do not turn off your headlights. This creates an unsafe situation where other drivers can’t see you.
Drivers should contact their insurance companies if their vehicles are damaged in a deer collision. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources does not pay for damages to vehicles involved in any collision with wildlife. Drivers and passengers should never stand in the road to look at a deer struck by their vehicle – this is unsafe and can lead to another accident.
There is a common misconception that hunting causes deer to move more in October, November and December. But deer movement increases regardless of hunting pressure. The increase is evident even in areas where hunting is not allowed. Hunters actually help keep deer numbers in balance with available habitat, thinning the herd in over-populated areas where collisions are more likely to occur.
“People hunt deer when the deer are most active, and there is a mistaken idea that hunters cause this activity,” said Brunjes. “But it’s the activity that causes us to hunt them.”
Deer movement will decrease in December, as the primary breeding season ends and deer resume their normal patterns and secretive nature. Until then, use extra caution while driving.
Author Hayley Lynch is an award-winning writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. She is an avid hunter and shotgun shooter.