Highway Road Kills a Sure Sign of the Whitetail Rut

With the rut approaching, we are beginning to see an uptick in deer/vehicle collisions. As the number of bucks chasing does increases, so will the number of whitetails decorating the grills of 18-wheelers.

According to State Farm Insurance, approximately 1 million whitetails are killed each year by vehicles. That is roughly 33 percent of the annual hunting season harvest across whitetail country. In fact, in the Northeast, motorists kill six deer for every 10 taken by hunters. That's a lot of carnage on the highway. Were it not for hunters thinning out the herds, collision rates would skyrocket even higher.

Pennsylvania leads the nation in road-killed whitetails with more than 100,000 fatalities each year. Michigan is close behind, with most years running slightly under the Pennsylvania mark (mid-high 90,000). New York killed more than 80,000 whitetails in 2011-2012; Ohio over 60,000; and Wisconsin over 50,000. Wondering where all the deer have gone? Ask the insurance companies.

Another statistic important to whitetail watchers is accidents per road mile. Maryland leads the pack with .5 deer collisions per mile annually. That's a collision every two miles. Pennsylvania is second with .46, followed by Michigan, West Virginia, and New Jersey (.38,.38, and .37 respectively). It's no wonder insurance rates are through the roof. The Northeast averages a deer auto collision for every .33 road mile. The Southeast is safest at .11 per road mile.

I've hit my share of deer over the years. Sometimes my batting average is better with my truck than with my bow. We live in the heart of NY's southern tier deer country and during the rut you can barely make it to town to pick up a pizza without slamming on the brakes three or four times (good brakes are a must). Anyone who drives back roads over 40 mph in our neck of the woods is asking for trouble, especially in October and November. They show up out of nowhere and are on you before you can react. Sometimes you are better off driving through them than flipping your vehicle or running up a tree in an attempt to avoid.

My son Neil has equipped a number of vehicles with all kinds of brush guards and cattle catching devices designed to keep deer from coming through his grill and windshield. Some have worked, some have not. Most of them have been busted up along with the truck. His wife has been averaging one deer collision a year since she started driving to work each morning and evening.

Deer vehicle collisions are very reliable indicators of "rut on." In fact, they are one of our best rut markers. If you are headed to hunting camp and see fresh kills all over the highway, you are in for a good hunt. The numbers will build steadily from here on through November. They will drop in December across most of whitetail country. The body guy who fixes our grills and bumpers is the best rut caller in the area (but don't tell my editors).

The Quality Deer Management Association, who keeps track of all things whitetail related (and the source of these statistics), strongly recommends keeping deer populations in line with the habitat and making motorists aware of high risk driving times.