WASHINGTON – When mating season comes, bucks will chase does with little regard for their own safety.
When daylight saving time ends, more commuters are on the road at dusk, a peak time for deer activity.
When those annual events coincide, the result is especially risky for deer and motorists alike.
The last quarter of the year typically sees a marked increase in deer-car collisions and state cleanup crews report many more deer carcasses on roads.
The State Highway Administration has removed about 38,000 dead deer from state roads since 2001, nearly half of them during just three months — October, November and December.
The highest concentration typically comes in November, when state highway crews have removed more than 8,000 dead deer dating back to 2001.
November’s status as the deadliest deer month on state roads is no surprise to deer experts and state officials.
“It’s breeding season,” said Brian Eyler, a deer biologist with Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “Deer really become mobile during that period.
“They breed one time a year, and it’s also when young bucks are dispersing. You have a lot more movement in the deer herd.”
During this time of year, bucks have one thing in mind above all others. Their desire to mate can send them just about anywhere — including into the path of oncoming cars.
“They’re moving where they usually aren’t,” said Rob Gibbs, chairman of Montgomery County’s Deer Management Work Group. “They’re much less concerned with their surroundings.”
“They can go miles out of their way for a doe,” Eyler said.
When Marylanders set their clocks back, Gibbs said, it only makes things more dangerous.
“With the daylight saving time change, suddenly, rush hour is occurring right at dusk, which is the most active time for deer regardless of the breeding season,” he said. “Those two things happen right at the same time of year.”
Of the roughly 4,600 deer recovered by SHA so far this year, more were found on Interstate 70 — almost 300 — than any other road.
U.S. Route 40, U.S. Route 15, Maryland Route 32 and U.S. Route 50 round out the top five this year among state-maintained roads.
And while I-70 is a hot spot partly because of its length — 93 miles stretching from Baltimore to Hancock to the Pennsylvania border — heavily trafficked roads such as interstates can cause problems for wayward deer, especially when they wander onto ramps.
“Deer do find their way onto the roadways around those cloverleaf areas,” Gibbs said. “Once they wander off onto the highway, it’s hard for them to get off.”
The SHA “has deer crossing advisory signs in locations where there are high deer populations — mostly in rural, wooded areas of the area counties,” said Kellie Boulware, a spokeswoman for SHA. “We do advise motorists to be observant of these areas.”
The state’s recovery shops in Carroll, Frederick and Harford counties have reported more deer cleanups than any others this year.
Statewide, the average Maryland driver has a one-in-164 chance of hitting a deer within the next year, according State Farm Insurance claims data. This ratio makes the state the 18th riskiest in the country.
The nationwide average is one in 216. Maryland is considered a “medium risk” state by State Farm’s standards, but neighboring West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania are all “high risk.”
Though deer mating season coincides with hunting season, hunters generally don’t contribute to the increase in deer-car collisions.
“That’s really not the case,” Eyler said. “Deer will generally become more stationary when hunters are in the woods. They’ll sit tight and they won’t leave their normal home range.
“It’s not really because of hunters in the woods. Most of the deer being struck are being struck after dark, and hunters aren’t in the woods after dark.”
Overpopulation, officials believe, is a bigger cause of collisions in certain areas.
Deer overpopulation brings other risks, too; homeowners can incur property damage caused by wandering — and hungry — deer.
One way Montgomery County officials have tried to rein in overpopulation is via managed hunts on park land.
From 1996, when managed hunts started, to 2002, reported deer-car collisions around three parks in Montgomery County fell dramatically, and they have leveled off since.
Near Seneca Creek State Park in Gaithersburg, 101 collisions were reported in 1996. That number dropped to 8 in 2001 and 11 in 2002.
“When we first started our deer management hunts … we did have a lot of folks opposed to hunting in general, protesting and trying to convince us that it wasn’t what we wanted to do,” Gibbs said. “One of the things they pointed out was that managed deer hunts were going to push deer out into roads, but we really found that didn’t happen. In fact, there were less.
“The long-term trend has been quite the opposite, because we’re reducing the deer population in general at the park.”