Dennis Ferraro, UNL Extension, is also the resident herpetologist at the School of Natural Resources. Dennis writes timely articles on animals that you might see on your acreage in Nebraska, ranging from mammals to insects. Some you may want to encourage, while some, like this month's feature, you may want to avoid at times!
While many people think of the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) as a game animal and not commonly a pest or menace, anyone who encounters one on the road or whose lawn and gardens are grazed by deer might think otherwise.
Most of Nebraska's human population live in or adjacent to forests, woods, creeks and rivers, or tree-lined areas of the state; this also is where deer live. The overlap of living and commuting areas for people and deer increases the chance for deer-car collisions. According to University of Nebraska studies, there is a direct relationship between the number of accidents and the number of miles driven in these areas.
Deer-car encounters are occurring at alarming rates in rural, suburban, and even urban locations across Nebraska. According to the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, there were 3,760 car animal collisions causing $1,000 or more in damages in 2009. Of those, 3,420 involved deer. There were 2,980 deer-car collisions in 2004. One reason for the increase in collisions is the number of deer. The deer population has been at record highs for the past 3 years, reports the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Also, the number of collisions increases in the fall. This is due to several factors, including deer movement caused by grain harvest, increased activity due to mating season, and more movement because of the noise associated with deer hunting season. Other seasonal changes in deer-car accident rates are a slight increase in May and June when fawns from the previous year are leaving their mothers, and a slight decrease in summer.
Most collisions occur around sunset, but be alert at other times, too. How can you avoid hitting a deer? Reflectors, deer whistles, and similar devices are not consistently effective. The best way to prevent an accident is to slow down and keep your eyes open. Watch for animals moving in roadsides and ditches. If you see one deer, slow down even more becuase there often will be others in the area.
If you hit a deer, call the local law enforcement and your insurance company. It is possible to get a road kill permit to claim the deer. And if you are wondering, according to State Farm Insurance, Nebraska ranks 12th of the 50 states in terms of where a driver is most likely to collide with a deer; your odds are 1 in 111. West Virginia has the honor of placing first on the list, with odds of 1 in 42. Your chances of hitting a deer are lowest in Hawaii, at 1 in 13,011.
The Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles has a deer-vehicle collision information kit prepared by the Game and Parks Commission with information on how to avoid, and what to do if you have a close encounter with a deer.