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Motorists should use caution

Monday, October 24, 2005

As the population of white-tailed deer steadily increases, so does the number of deer-related automobile accidents.

"Man has always been the number one predator for white-tailed deer," said Russ Grunden, agency spokesman for the Indiana DNR. "These days, the biggest predators seem to be Fords and Chevys."

Indiana Conservation Officer Michael Portteus listed several primary reasons for the steady increase in deer-related traffic accidents. Fall is breeding season for white-tail deer, and the animals are known to range over a large geographical area, roadways included, in search of a mate.

The harvest also affects the movements of Indiana's deer herd. During the summer months, deer grow accustomed to seeking food and refuge in crop fields. When those crops are harvested, deer are forced to travel to find shelter, and often cross roads in doing so.

"When they get pushed around by combines, they have to go somewhere," Portteus said. "A lot of the times, that puts them in the roads."

Portteus and Grunden offered a few strategies for drivers hoping to avoid deer collisions and the costly repairs that follow.

-Use caution when driving during high-risk hours

As the days get shorter, the risk of deer-related accidents sharply increases.

"Deer move the most during twilight hours," Portteus said. "We're all driving at those times now. There are more people on the roads at sunset now than in July, when the sun sets much later in the evening."

Grunden said he advises drivers to scan roadsides and proceed carefully over hills and around curves during the evening commute.

-Do not rely on deer whistles and other deterrents to prevent deer collisions

At one time, Farm Bureau Insurance issued deer whistles to all of their auto-insurance policy holders, Portteus said. After conducting a comprehensive study on the effectiveness of the devices, they stopped.

"According to Farm Bureau and other insurance companies, they make no difference," he said.

Grunden said that drivers should not use deer whistles as an excuse to be complacent.

"I've heard people say they're effective and I've heard others say they don't work," he said. "They're certainly not as effective as keeping an eye open and being careful."

-Take matters into your own hands

"Hunting is one of the most important methods we use to control the size of the deer herd," Portteus said.

Hunting laws, specifically bag-limits for antlerless deer (does, of course, and male deer with antlers less than three inches long), have been altered dramatically in recent years in an effort to control Indiana's deer population. Under new regulations, a hunter could take as many as 62 deer over the course of the season.

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