WASHINGTON – Auto body shop manager Tim Karamichalis knows when it’s deer mating season — business at his Rockville shop goes up.
At least 20 car owners will arrive at the auto body shop from October to early January and spend an average of $2,000 to repair damages caused by deer crashes.
“Yep, this is the time of the year,” said Karamichalis, who has been in the business for nine years.
Numbers from the Maryland State Highway Administration back him up: 25 percent of all car-animal crashes in Maryland last year happened in November, the peak of deer mating season. Half of all such crashes occurred from October through December, according to the state.
The state agency does not break the animal-car crash statistics down to type of animal. But the numbers start climbing in October, the first month of deer mating season, and drop after December, its last.
Montgomery County registered the highest number of animal-caused accidents in the state and it does break out deer numbers. The county police department listed 1,774 deer-car incidents in 1998 and saw the number of such accidents that resulted in personal injury jump from seven in 1997 to 19 in 1998.
Most of the county’s collisions were in the Germantown area where, on Friday morning alone, four deer-car crashes occurred, said Montgomery County Police Officer Bill Wilhelm.
Wilhelm, who keeps the county’s statistics on fender-bending deer, said the most dangerous mistake drivers make is to swerve into the path of another car in an attempt to avoid a deer. He said drivers should especially watch out at dawn and dusk and always expect more than one deer on the road.
A yearling buck, forced off by an older male, can travel as far as 10 miles looking for his own territory and mates, said Doug Hotton, a biologist with the Department of Natural Resources. Deer are more aggressive and competitive among themselves, but do not develop a hostile behavior towards people during mating season, Hotton said.
Deer are also crossing paths with humans more frequently because the rapid pace of urbanization has led to less deer habitat, said Bob Tjaden, a natural resources specialist with the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service.
“It pushes them to suburban and urban areas,” said Tjaden.
He said urbanization also provides an abundance of new food for deer, like shrubs and grass. That better diet makes the birth of twin and triplet deer increasingly common.
“Deer are producing more fawns on a annual basis,” Tjaden said. “They are squeezed into a smaller area.”
Deer are normally very cautious about going into the open — Tjaden called them an “edge species” — and it is not usual for them to cross roads. Once the hormones kick in during the mating season, however, this polygamouus species becomes “extremely careless about where they are,” said Tjaden.
In addition to the drive to reproduce, deer during this time of the year also are on the move to find habitats food and shelter for the upcoming winter.
Heidi Prescott, president of the Fund for Animals, said the problem is not one of too many deer, but “I would say it is too many roads into deer territory.
“We need to learn how to live with them,” said Prescott.
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