Deer hunters: Take careful aim

I don't hunt deer. At least not on purpose.

But I'm making a plea to everybody out there who enjoys the sport.

Please, practice your marksmanship. Harvest as many deer as you legally can this year.

Every fall, I try my best to send out good vibes to every man, woman and child who has plans to go deer hunting. I want them to be successful. I want to publish photos of a proud hunter displaying a fresh kill.

I'd rather that the venison that so freely roams on the hoof in the Vermillion-area countryside be taken by a hunter.

It's a much better alternative than a car-deer collision.

The fear of my car one day colliding with a deer went up a notch or two this week, thanks to what I found in my e-mail here at work.

This notice from AAA, for example:

AAA is warning motorists that this is the time of the year more deer will be on South Dakota's roadways and to be on the lookout for them, especially at dusk and dawn.

"We're entering deer mating season and the time when deer are searching for food to build up fat reserves for the winter," said Marilyn Buskohl, spokeswoman for AAA South Dakota. "Plus, deer populations are high in South Dakota right now – increasing the risk of car-deer collisions. Already this fall, motorists have tragically died in crashes with deer."

Just as I had calmed down a bit after reading that, I stumbled upon this ditty in my electronic mailbox from State Farm Insurance:

"For the sixth year in a row, West Virginia tops the list of states where an individual driver is most likely to run into a deer."

Ok. So far, so good.

"South Dakota moved from third to second on the list.  The likelihood of a licensed driver in that (our) state hitting a deer within the next year is 1 in 68.  Iowa (1 in 71.9) drops from second to third."

Dang.

The Insurance Information Institute estimates there are more than 1.6 million collisions with deer annually nationwide, resulting in about 150 human deaths, tens of thousands of injuries and more than $3.6 billion in vehicular damage.

"Keep in mind, deer can run as fast as 40 miles per hour. They may suddenly bolt onto the road, catching motorists off guard," said Buskohl.

Both AAA South Dakota and the Insurance Information Institute offer similar tips on how to reduce the odds of a deer-vehicle confrontation:

  •  Keep in mind that deer generally travel in herds – if you see one, there is a strong possibility others are nearby.
  •  Be aware of posted deer crossing signs.  These are placed in active deer crossing areas.
  •  Remember that deer are most active between 6 and 9 p.m.
  •  Use high beam headlamps as much as possible at night to illuminate the areas from which deer will enter roadways.
  • If a deer collision seems inevitable, attempting to swerve out of the way could cause you to lose control of your vehicle or place you in the path of an oncoming vehicle.
  •  Don't rely on car-mounted deer whistles. 
  • Buckle up and don't speed. A decrease in speed gives you more time to react.
  • Reduce distractions in the vehicle and stay alert. A deer standing near a roadside may suddenly run across the road. Slow down and use your horn to scare the deer. Never shine or flash your vehicle's lights. This can cause the deer to fixate on your vehicle.
  •  Look for groups. Deer travel in groups, so if you see one crossing the road ahead slow down, as there are probably others in the area but out of view.
  •  Never swerve. Instead, slow down and brake. Swerving can cause you to lose control of your vehicle and strike another vehicle or object along the roadway.
  •  Slow down. If a crash with a deer is unavoidable, AAA recommends slowing down and releasing your foot from the brake before impact. This will raise the front end of the car during the crash and increase the likelihood that the animal will go underneath the vehicle instead of through the windshield.

There's one, nearly foolproof solution to the car/deer collision problem that I wouldn't mind trying someday. The state in which deer-vehicle mishaps are least likely is Hawaii (1 in 6,801).  The odds of a driver in Hawaii colliding with a deer between now and 12 months from now are approximately equal to the odds that any one person will be struck by lightning during his or her lifetime.

I like those odds. And, I bet I could get used to the weather in Hawaii during South Dakota's frigid chilly deer seasons.

In the meantime, to all you deer hunters out there: Good luck! 

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