By BECKY GILLETTE
Deer hunting season is approaching, and with it brings the most dangerous time of the year in Mississippi for deer collisions with vehicles.
Probably one of the main hobbies for men in Mississippi is deer hunting, but anyone who has had his or her vehicles smashed by a collision with a deer might wish for fewer deer in the state.
“Mississippi has a very healthy deer population,” said Kevin Whittington, State Farm agent in Natchez. “So, we have a lot of deer. There is no doubt. An average buck is probably 200 pounds, but even the smallest deer can do damage especially if you are going 65 miles per hour on a highway. They can get the front of your vehicle, they can flip up to the windshield and sometimes they even get spooked and run into the side of a vehicle. They can do major damage to a vehicle.”
According to data the Insurance Information Institute and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in 2013, 191 deaths were the result of collisions with animals, with deer being the animal most often struck.
State Farm’s study showed the national cost per claim average is $4,135, up six percent from 2014 when the average was $3,888. West Virginia tops the list of states where a collision is most likely with one in 44 odds. Hawaii, at the bottom of the list, with one in 8,765 odds.
The odds of hitting a deer in Mississippi are nearly double that of the national average. The state ranks eighth nationally in deer collisions with the odds that drivers will hit a deer at one out of 88. The national odds are one in 169. However, the state dropped from its number six ranking last year, representing a 4.5 percent decrease in the chances of a deer/vehicle collision.
The months a driver is most likely to collide with a deer in Mississippi, mostly due to mating and hunting seasons, are October, November and December.
“Most of the year, I average one deer vehicle collision a month,” Whittington said. “The last three months of the year when the most accidents occur, I can average two claims a week. Mississippi is relatively rural territory, so you have a lot of deer. During hunting seasons deer are really moving, coming out of the deep woods looking for food. You also have bucks trailing does during rutting season.”
When possible at night, he recommends using the high beams. Slow down, especially in areas where you have seen them before. And, as is the state law, always wear your seatbelt.
“Just be vigilant,” Whittington said. “If you see them on the sides of the road, know that they can take off in a heartbeat. Usually they are in groups of two or three. So, if you see one cross the road, know that more may be following.”
When a deer jumps out into the road, drivers have to make difficult, split-second decisions. Sometimes it is better to hit them than try to avoid them than to run off the road or into oncoming traffic where more damage can be done.
“Vehicles can be replaced,” Whittington said. “Your life can’t. It is going to happen. Once in your life on average you will hit a deer while driving.”
He also doesn’t advise relying on gimmicks like deer whistles, devices put on the hood of the vehicles that are sold with claims that they deter deer. Wildlife Bureau Director Chad Dacus, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, agrees deer whistlers do not work.
“The Ohio Highway Patrol put them on their cars and they didn’t see any difference in the number of deer collisions,” Dacus said. “A University of Georgia study also showed no avoidance. The best thing is to be aware of your surroundings, especially when driving at dusk and dawn. If you have seen deer in a location before, be aware you will likely see them again.”
Dacus said the problem varies by region with central Mississippi having a higher deer population, and Northeast Mississippi and South Mississippi a more dense population.
“One of the things to remember is places where there are higher collisions are areas of new urban growth like Jackson, the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and the Memphis metro area,” Dacus said. “The concrete expansion has destroyed the habitat where deer have lived. In some cases, development closes deer off in areas where don’t have the habitat they used to. A lot of times people move into the country and like to see different types of wildlife. But because we have moved into those areas, wildlife can also become a nuisance.”
Deer movement increases during the fall and winter months escalates the importance of driving defensively and staying alert, especially at dawn and dusk, said Jarrod Ravencraft, public affairs director for the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
“From 2009 to 2014, Mississippi has averaged over 3,000 deer-related crashes per year,” Ravencraft said. “The increase in vehicle-deer crashes in the fall and winter months is partially a result of higher traffic volumes, higher vehicle speed and shorter daylight hours.”