FRANKFORT — Motorists encounter deer on Kentucky roadways throughout the year but the number of collisions increases in the fall.
Almost half of all deer-related accidents in the state occur from October through December with more of these collisions reported in November than any other month, according to Kentucky State Police data.
“Drivers should be aware of deer movements this fall no matter where they are in the state,” said Kyle Sams, deer biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Drive a little slower and try to anticipate what might be coming from different directions.”
Multiple factors contribute to the seasonal rise in deer-related crashes.
Shorter periods of daylight and cooler temperatures trip breeding instincts in deer and the peak of activity generally occurs by mid-November. Crop harvesting and increased hunting pressure also can put deer on the move in the fall, Sams said.
“But the thing that causes deer to move more during October and November is simply the mating cycle known as the rut,” he said. “Male deer are searching for females and they don’t really pay attention to their whereabouts like they do at other times of the year. At the same time, you see more does (female deer) darting across roadways because the bucks are chasing them.”
Motorists commuting to and from work around dusk and dawn are reminded that those are periods when deer are typically most active. Last November, more than half of the deer-vehicle collisions occurred between 5-8 a.m. and 5-8 p.m., according to state police data.
“Deer have evolved to be active during those portions of the day,” Sams said. “During the mating cycle, or rut, they can be active throughout the day.”
Proceed with caution when passing through known deer crossing areas, often identified by yellow highway signs, and use high-beam headlights at night when there’s no oncoming traffic.
Should you encounter a deer on the road, slow down but only take evasive action if it can be done safely. Swerving could confuse the deer even more and increase the likelihood of a crash. Allow the deer to leave the roadway but keep in mind that more may be following it.
Kentucky State Police offers these tips and a wealth of statistics on a webpage dedicated to vehicle-deer collision information at kentuckystatepolice.org/deerauto.htm.
It also publishes the annual Kentucky Traffic Collision Facts report. According to the 2014 report, deer-related crashes accounted for less than 3 percent of the 127,326 total vehicle collisions reported to state police. Three people died in vehicle-deer collisions last year.
Populous counties with high deer densities produce some of the highest collision rates. Boone County in northern Kentucky led the state the previous five years with an average of 148 vehicle-deer collisions per year followed by Hopkins (122), Jefferson (103), Campbell (97) and Hardin (96) counties, according to state police data.
Hunting is a critical component in the management of Kentucky’s deer herd.
Of the 10 counties with the highest average of vehicle-deer collisions from 2010-2014, according to state police data, more than half are classified by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife as Zone 1 counties. The department sets deer hunting season dates and the number of deer each hunter can take by zone. In a Zone 1 county, the deer population is higher than biologists would prefer, so hunters are allowed to take more deer. Hunters may harvest an unlimited number of female deer in Zone 1 counties but must purchase the appropriate number of additional deer permits.
“Without hunters we would have a tremendous overpopulation of deer across the state,” Sams said. “Hunters really are the most efficient and cost effective tool that we have in deer control. They help us manage the deer population through harvest.”