Meridian Star

January 9, 2013

Motorists, deer sharing same roadways

DANNY BARRETT JR.
Vicksburg Post

VICKSBURG, Miss. —  

Robert Redden was on his way home to Utica about a week ago after a long day in the woods when his truck met up with the broad side of a deer.

"I was going down (Highway) 27 at Charlie Brown Road," Redden said. "I didn't see it. I was tired and trying to get home."

The lifelong hunter didn't call 911 and plans to repair his 1992 Ford Ranger, the grill and front fender gashed and scuffed in the encounter.

In December, the heart of "gun season" in the state's four-month deer hunting season, fewer people called Vicksburg Warren 911 to report what dispatchers call "vehicle vs. deer" accidents compared to the same time a year ago. Dispatchers' records show they took 24 calls during December, just more than half during the month a year earlier.

Does likely moved over wider areas of Warren County last spring and summer as they searched to find water during an extra-dry and early fawning season, state deer biologists said last summer.

More deer meant more have been seen dashing across roads and, in a few cases, crashing through plate-glass windows in broad daylight.

They're out there, Redden said, even if they're not reported to law enforcement immediately.

"Ten years ago, I hit one in the Ranger down Redbone Road coming home from work at LeTourneau," Redden said. "I have a big 1978 Dodge pickup and I can't get 'em to hit it!"

The last two of 10 fatal wrecks in Warren County in 2012, one Nov. 30 and another Dec. 13, took place on Duncan Road and U.S. Highway 80, areas known for heavy deer populations. Another wreck reported Dec. 31 tied up traffic on westbound Interstate 20 when a vehicle struck a deer, though no major injuries were reported.

A good mast crop, or the fruit eaten by deer from forest trees, has Mississippi's deer population, estimated to be 1.75 million, in good health, said William McKinley, a deer program biologist for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

In 2009-10, the most recent deer program report available, 2,763 bucks were harvested by 91 participants in Warren County in the agency's Deer Management Assistance Program. Both figures were tops among the state's 82 counties in the program.

When a deer crosses a road, it's about more than getting to the other side. When chasing a doe during breeding season, which lasts through January in West-Central Mississippi and peaked in Vicksburg just before Christmas, a buck is not likely to see a truck or car whether it's in front of the headlights or not.

"They may not even see oncoming traffic, and there's a certain pecking order when they do that, so it's a critical time to be on the lookout," McKinley said. "If you see one, slow down because there's likely to be more."

From October through January, MDWFP agents observe and note the number of deer carcasses seen per 10,000 miles driven in their vehicles. Last winter, the total was 13.9, a slight dip after four years of increases. McKinley said the count is the agency's primary way of tracking motor vehicle accidents involving deer.

"The increases are probably associated with more deer overall," McKinley said, adding certain types of grasses near a road attract deer. "There's no effort made to determine the number of vehicles on the road, but it's used an as index for the deer population."

Emergency officials and the insurance industry stress it's best to report a deer strike just as any other wreck.

"A lot of people will leave the scene and go home," E-911 dispatch director Jason Tatum said. "They need to stay at the scene and report it."

Comprehensive vehicle insurance, though more expensive than basic liability coverage, is the best protection against expensive auto repairs from a deer strike, along with a strategy for driving during deer season, said Roszell Gadson, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance.

"We tell people not to swerve," Gadson said.

Mississippi is rated the 17th-most likely state to have a deer collision, according to a study by State Farm, the nation's largest insurance provider. West Virginia, which has 1.2 million licensed drivers compared with Mississippi's 1.9 million, rated first.

Average property cost of deer-vehicle incidents nationwide was $3,305 during mid-2011 to mid-2012, up 4.4 percent from the previous year, according to the study.

Deductible amounts vary from one driver to the next, said Nancy Stuart, lead agent at Alfa Insurance on Pemberton Square Boulevard.

"Most of our accidents are minor, usually on a dark, lonely road," Stuart said. "But, the deer are everywhere around here."