Drivers beware: deer activity at its peak

Keep just a little closer eye on the side of the road this time of year. It’s the busiest season for deer collisions.

Deer related collisions typically peak during breeding season, which spreads across fall and into winter, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

The S.C. Highway Patrol doesn’t keep track of the number of deer collisions the way vehicle crashes are monitored, but Lance Cpl. Sonny Collins said it’s common across the state.

“I don’t think there’s anywhere in the state that’s immune from deer collisions,” he said.

Charles Ruth, deer and turkey project supervisor for DNR, said there are about 2,200 crashes involving deer each year across the state, though there may be more with minor damage that aren’t reported.

Ruth said breeding season peaks in October and November, but can last into mid-December. This time of year is when 40 to 50 percent of the annual deer involved wrecks occur.

“It’s their time of year, they’re trying to find mates and moving more,” he said. “If deer move more, naturally they’re going to cross roads more.”

Last year, Horry County had about 85 deer-vehicle collisions while Georgetown County had about 24. Ruth said those numbers are provided by the S.C. Department of Transportation.

He said other states report 30,000 to 50,000 annual deer versus vehicle wrecks.

The difference, Ruth said, is deer management with regulated annual harvests. But the number of people is the biggest factor.

“Deer-vehicle collisions are driven largely by the number of people in an area,” he said. “Obviously it takes someone driving a car to hit a deer. In dealing with this for many years, you can have a part of the state like Allendale County which has a very high deer population and a very, very low human population; they have very few collisions.”

Charleston, Greenville and Richland counties are at the top of the list, however, and are among the state’s most populated counties, Ruth said.

“It almost seems like if you’ve got deer at all, having a lot of people can overcome the shortage of deer,” he said.

Deer related collisions have declined over the last decade, along with the deer population, but Ruth said the white-tailed deer numbers are healthy in the state.

Overall, the deer-related wrecks don’t have a major effect on the deer population and predominately result in property damage.

Crashes often occur when deer cross the road, Collins said. And Ruth said the risk is greatest at dawn and dusk.

“What you have to remember, especially with deer, is the majority of the time if there’s one there’s usually multiples,” Collins said. “If you see one crossing the road, there’s going to be more.”

Slowing down and using high beams when possible are two ways drivers can prevent colliding with a deer. Collins said high beams, when there’s no oncoming traffic, should be used as much as possible along wooded or farming areas where deer are commonly seen.

If the crash can’t be avoided, Ruth said it’s actually best to hit the deer rather than swerve around the animal.

“It’s a real horrid thing for folks to do,” he said. “But if you hit the deer you’re going to have property damage. If you swerve and run off the road, maybe flip your car, you’re going to have health issues.”

Ruth said the rumor about DNR or other state agencies providing compensation for injuries or damages after a deer-related crash is not true. But, a deer killed by a vehicle can be kept for consumption as long as there’s an incident report to prove the deer was not illegally shot.