Mating season and the quest for more secure habitat have deer on the move this time of year, increasing the chances of deer-vehicle collisions.
Typically, the greatest number of deer-vehicle crashes are in mid-November when the rut, or mating season, peaks. In addition to the rut, deer are also on the move in mid-fall seeking new food sources and shelter as crops are harvested and leaves fall from trees and shrubs, leaving them less secure than in their summer habitats.
“We haven’t seen a huge uptick yet,” Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir. “But we expect that to change as it gets colder.”
According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, 10,734 (16.5 percent) of the 64,933 vehicle crashes reported in 2018 were deer-related (crashes in which a deer and vehicle actually collided, or the presence of a deer was a contributing circumstance). Although crashes involving deer occur throughout the year in every Kansas county, the highest number of crashes typically occur where there are the most vehicles. Sedgwick County had 418 deer-vehicle crashes reported in 2018, the most of any county, while Butler County followed with 384 reported deer-vehicle crashes.
As a result of the car-deer crashes in 2018, three motorists were killed and 593 were injured.
In the Golden Belt, there were 206 crashes in Barton County with nine motorists injured. There were 129 in Ellsworth County with seven injuries, 96 with six injuries in Pawnee County, 135 in Rice County with five injuries, 117 in Rush County with five injuries, 99 in Russell County with five injuries and 105 in Stafford County with eight injuries.
“Not only are in the rut, but milo harvest is going on,” Bellendir said. The deer, already more active than usual, are easily spooked by the field work.
“They just kind of lose their minds,” he said. “They are out running around on highways.”
“Wet weather this year may cause some deer to cross roads in new places and the additional vegetation growth could make deer harder to see until they are in the road. The approaching breeding season increases deer movement, and the cooler weather, along with young deer dispersing to find new home ranges, mean more deer may be crossing the roads,” said Levi Jaster, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism big game coordinator.
“In addition to potentially causing human injuries and loss of life, deer collisions often cause significant vehicle damage that can lead to large expenses for the vehicle owner if not properly insured,” said Shawn Steward, Public and Government Affairs Manager for AAA Kansas. “Of the animal strikes reported by AAA Insurance policy holders during the five year period between 2014 and 2018, the average cost per claim was nearly $4,300.”
The Kansas Highway Patrol cautions drivers to refrain from making exaggerated maneuvers to avoid a deer in the road, lest a bad situation become even worse.
“If you are unfortunate enough to have a deer enter the highway in front of your car, it is best to hit the animal and not swerve to avoid it,” said the KHP’s Lt. Adam Winters. “Often, we find more serious crashes occur when you swerve to miss the deer, potentially losing control of your vehicle, leaving the road or veering into oncoming traffic.”
In addition, “just be cautious and slow down at night,” Bellendir said, adding most crashes in Barton County occur on the county roads. He also recommended drivers use their high-beam lights when ever possible.
Anyone involved in a vehicle-deer crash resulting in personal injury or property damage that totals $1,000 or more is required to immediately report the crash to the nearest law enforcement agency. Failure to report any traffic crash is a misdemeanor and may result in suspension of driving privileges.
A salvage tag is required to remove a deer carcass, or any part of the carcass, from the crash site. Tags can be issued by KHP troopers, sheriff’s deputies, or KDWPT game wardens.