This fall’s deer rutting season officially ended in November, but state and local officials are warning Fulton County motorists to remain alert to the wayward animals while driving.
Second, and even third, rutting periods can occur between now and the end of January, and deer hunters can add to the problem of deer escaping recklessly across roadways, State Wildlife Officer Josh Zientek said. He said rural motorists often relax after the rutting season ends, and need to understand the annual peak time for deer-car crashes may not be over.
“We do get cases this time of year where motorists hit deer,” Zientek said, whose territory is primarily Fulton County. “We’re fortunate in Fulton County that we don’t have a ton of deer. But we have roads every mile. There are pluses and minuses there.”
Due to more habitat, the western portion of the county likely holds the densest deer population, he said. But, generally, the population is equally distributed.
Three more deer hunting seasons – archery season through Feb. 3, an extra gun weekend Dec. 15-16, and muzzle loader season Jan. 5-8 – will add to the risk of deer-car accidents, Zientek said. So will probable second and third ruts that can extend into December, and recent harvests that clear fields and disrupt deer habitats.
”It’s going to be a lot smaller as far as activity goes, but you’re still going to see bucks chasing does in that time frame,” Zientek said.
The Ohio Department of Public Safety recorded 195 deer-car accidents in Fulton County between Jan. 1 and Nov. 26. Two involved motorist injuries, and 63 occurred during October and November.
There were more than 18,000 deer-car collisions in Ohio in 2017, causing seven deaths and 804 injuries.
Accidents involving deer often occur during first morning or last evening light, times when deer are most active, Zientek said. When driving at night it’s important to use the vehicle’s high beams when possible, and to routinely scan both sides of the roadway.
“It’s important to be aware and alert while driving,” he said. If a deer is blocking the path a driver should stop the vehicle and blow the horn to scare it off.
If confronted by a deer running or leaping in the roadway, Zientek advised motorists to not panic or swerve the vehicle. Instead, he said, grab the steering wheel with both hands and apply the brakes.
“Whatever you do, do not swerve,” he said. “Swerving is the worst thing. If you’re going 60 miles per hour and you jerk that wheel, typically the vehicle is going to roll.”
If a collision seems inevitable, it’s better to hit the deer than to try to avoid an accident, he added. Let the vehicle take the brunt of the impact and prevent injury to the driver.
“There’s really not that much you can do,” he said.
Fulton County Sheriff Roy Miller said it’s simply a matter of staying alert and slowing down. He agreed it’s safer to hit a deer than maneuver around it, and said during his tenure he has witnessed only one case of a deer crashing through a windshield upon impact.
“If you can’t avoid it, just hit it,” he said.
Miller reminded motorists to look into open fields along their routes for deer that may be headed in their direction. And if confronted in a wooded area by a running or leaping deer always assume there are others right behind it, Miller said.
Zientek said the cause of most deer-car accidents is distracted driving. “The driver is texting or playing with the radio or just not paying attention,” he said. “They need to focus.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.