Motorists should slow down after sundown and before sunrise to reduce their risk of having a close encounter with a white-tailed deer, state Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe said recently.
Deer collisions are an annual occurrence that will continue through Thanksgiving week and begin to slow down in mid-December. For the sake of public safety, the Game Commission is urging motorists to drive cautiously after dark for the next several months.
"The personal tragedies and property losses that are caused by deer-vehicle collisions touch the lives of Pennsylvanians statewide," Roe said. "It's an unfortunate and often painful consequence of living with white-tailed deer.
"It's also a shame to see whitetails killed on highways in the weeks before our biggest deer seasons," he added. "Obviously, many of these accidents are unavoidable because deer do step into the path of fast-moving vehicles. But driving defensively, or, at the very least, alertly, can give a motorist an edge in many instances."
Being knowledgeable about deer can help Pennsylvanians stay out of harm's way. Some deer aren't paying close attention to what's going on around them during the fall breeding season, commonly referred to as the "rut."
"During the rut, deer are moving about more than usual," Roe said. "It's a time when deer become preoccupied with finding the opposite sex or staying a few steps ahead of rival suitors. It's a time when this summer's fawns - left alone while does follow nature's calling - sometimes naively wander into troublesome predicaments. It's a time, quite frankly, when deer don't seem to maintain the distance that typically keeps them from dangerously interacting with Pennsylvania motorists."
Drivers shouldn't assume trouble has passed completely when a deer successfully crosses the road.
"Deer frequently travel in family groups and single file," Roe said. "Just because one has crossed, doesn't mean the threat is over. Its crossing could be a signal that others may follow, which they sometimes do blindly."
Bucks are beginning to chase does at this time of year. Sometimes bucks follow closely; other times they pursue with their heads to the ground nosing a scent trail.
Research conducted by the Game Commission and Penn State University indicates many yearling bucks will travel more during the fall.
"After tracking hundreds of radio-collared bucks, we know that most yearling bucks will be wandering away from the areas where they were born," said Dr. Christopher Rosenberry, Game Commission Deer and Elk Section supervisor. "These animals will travel four to five miles on average, but some may travel as far as 40 miles or more. Most of this movement occurs from mid-October through the breeding season in mid-November."
With the end of daylight saving time, more motorists will be driving to and from work at the peak hours of deer activity: dawn and dusk.
Those who are enjoying the outdoors during this colorful time of year, including hunters, also play a role in moving deer during daylight hours. Hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders and hunters can flush deer.
"If you see people in the vicinity of the road you're traveling, it's probably a good idea to slow down," Roe said. "Since most hunters are wearing fluorescent orange clothing, they're usually very visible to motorists."
Motorists also should slow down whenever farmers are harvesting cornfields because deer often are flushed from fields as farm equipment approaches them.
Drivers who hit a deer with a vehicle are not required to report the accident to the Game Commission.
If the deer dies, only Pennsylvania residents may claim the carcass. To do so, they must call the Game Commission region office representing the county where the accident occurred and an agency dispatcher will collect the information needed to provide a free permit number, which the caller should write down. A driver must call within 24 hours of taking possession of the deer.
A passing Pennsylvania motorist also may claim the deer, if the person whose vehicle hit it doesn't want it. Again, the motorist must report taking possession of the deer within 24 hours to the Game Commission.
Antlers from bucks killed in vehicle collisions must be turned over to the Game Commission. Also, removing antlers from road-killed bucks along the side of the road is illegal.
To report a dead deer for removal from state roads, motorists may call the state Department of Transportation at 1-800-349-7623.