It’s that time of the year again: male deer are on the hunt for females, chasing them all over the Delaware landscape.
And although deer avoid contact with humans, that inborn caution often is quickly overcome by a more primal urge, leading them across the First State’s very busy roadways.
Add a distracted human automobile driver into this mix, and there’s likely to be a bad outcome for one, if not both.
Nature takes over
The deer’s mating season, or rut, is the main reason for a spike in animal-related crashes during October and November, said Delaware State Police spokesman Sgt. Richard Bratz. The season peaks during the second week of November, although there are males out in pursuit of females before and after that time. Most animal/vehicle crashes take place during that time, according to an analysis of insurance claims by the Highway Loss Data Institute.
“November is the peak month for animal strikes,” according to the HLDI’s April 2017 study of crashes from the prior year. “Insurance claims for animal collisions are more than twice as high during November as in a typical month earlier in the year.”
Figures from the Delaware State Police show in 2016 there were 2,042 animal/deer-related crashes in the First State. Sussex County led the way with 1,010 reports investigated by state troopers. There were 591 in New Castle and 441 in Kent County, Bratz said.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, the average nationwide cost for a deer collision insurance claim is just over $4,100.
In general, crashes take place around dusk and dawn, and occur not only on back roads but on well-traveled main thoroughfares, Bratz said.
Female deer, with the males in hot pursuit, are likely to dart into streets and roads at any time but are especially prone to emerge from forested areas around those hours. Travelers following their routine of going to and from work will be driving in dusk or darkness, making it harder to see the animals, Bratz said.
A 2015 fatality
Does can become pregnant during a roughly three-month period, once each year. They have about a three-day window to mate.
If they fail to mate or do not become pregnant, the cycle begins again about one month later. The cycle repeats itself once more before the mating urge passes.
During this time of year, bucks can become extremely aggressive, both in chasing females or fighting among themselves. It’s a fight that sometimes ends with the deaths of combatants.
With the average Delaware white-tail weighing in at 130 pounds and larger bucks tipping the scales at 180 pounds or more, hitting animal even at reduced speeds can cause major damage to the vehicle.
It also can prove deadly.
Delaware has had four fatalities from deer collisions since 2006, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group funded by the major automobile companies. Texas had the most, 195 fatalities, while Rhode Island had two during the same period.
Delaware’s most recent fatality was Nov. 9, 2015, when a buck jumped in front of a car near Delaware City. The car hit the animal, which was thrown through the windshield. The driver survived, but his 48-year-old wife was critically injured and died a day later.
Most of the time the deer do not survive: just before 7 a.m. June 8, a deer tried to run across I-95 and was hit by a car, shattering the windscreen and sending the driver to the hospital. The animal, whose body landed inside the car, was killed.
Bratz said if a driver does strike a deer, even if damage to the vehicle is minor, it is best to leave the animal alone. It may only be stunned and could attack; in 2016, a woman in New Jersey pulled over after clipping a deer, but the animal recovered. She had to fight the animal off when it tried to jump into her truck as she opened the driver’s door. The deer eventually died of its injuries.
In Kent County, deer collisions peak between 5 and 6 a.m. and between 8 and 9 p.m. Police reports show most occur on Route 1 north of Dover, on Bay Road near Frederica, between Camden and Harrington on South Dupont Highway and along South State Street extended, from Camden to the Magnolia area.
Under Delaware law, if the deer dies after the collision, the driver is allowed to keep the animal for meat, although it must be tagged at the scene by state police. DNREC personnel also may issue tags afterward.