Love hurts: Mating season means deer can become a hazard for drivers

astice@islandpacket.comOctober 21, 2011 

More white-tailed deer looking for romance during October and November -- breeding season -- are hit by drivers than at any other time of the year, state officials say.

In Beaufort County last year, drivers got into 173 collisions with deer that caused mostly property damage and a few injuries, according to statistics from the S.C. Department of Public Safety.

That was a slight increase from 2009, when 161 drivers hit deer.

The number of incidents probably is higher: In some cases, the Department of Public Safety can't distinguish between accidents involving deer and other animals; and some accidents simply aren't reported.

Statewide, deer were involved in about 2,214 crashes, with about 45 percent occurring during the 60-day fall mating season, said Charles Ruth, a state deer biologist and supervisor of the state Department of Natural Resources Deer/Turkey Project.

Ruth said the number has stayed steady for the past five to seven years, and is much lower than deer-vehicle encounters reported in the 1980s and 1990s.

Because of state-supervised harvesting, South Carolina's deer population has decreased about 25 percent in the past decade, Ruth said.

"But on the other side of the equation, we're getting more and more people," he said.

Hilton Head Plantation is one of several local gated communities that culls deer from September through March to cut down on encounters with humans. So far this year, about seven accidents with deer have been reported with most of them occurring recently, according to property manager Peter Kristian.

"Drivers should be conscious of the fact that deer travel in herds, and if they see one coming across the road there is generally more than one," Kristian said.

DNR advises that if motorists see a deer by the side of the road in the distance, they should sound the horn several times, flick headlights if there is no oncoming traffic and slow down.

If the deer are a short distance away, those techniques might spook a deer into running across the road, so it's best just to slow down.

Bucks are out looking for does near sun-up and sun-down, when most people are commuting to or from work.

However, South Carolina drivers have less to worry about than residents of states in the Northeast and upper Midwest, where about 30,000 to 50,000 deer-vehicle collisions are reported annually, Ruth said.

"I know if someone hits a deer, it's a huge issue for them personally," Ruth said. "But comparatively speaking, we do not have as big of a problem."

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.

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