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Stay alert: Steer clear of deer during rutting season

Diane Schmidt of Cary was westbound on Three Oaks Road near Cary-Grove High School when a doe jumped in front of her car.

“I slowed down,” she said. “But I hit the baby.”

The fawn collided with the bumper of her car, went toward the windshield and rolled off to the side, Schmidt said. Its legs were broken, and a police officer killed it.

Schmidt’s 2002 Volvo sustained about $1,200 in damage. She wasn’t hurt, but since the accident on Oct. 12, she’s been warning people to be especially vigilant when it comes to deer.

“It happened less than a mile from my house,” Schmidt said. “They seem to be quite active right now.”

It’s true that the activity level of deer is rising this time of year as rutting, or breeding, season peaks in November, said Tom Micetich, deer project manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

“They’re pretty much active the whole month of November,” Micetich said. “There’s a peak somewhere toward the middle of November, falling off into early December.”

The deer population in McHenry County is on the decline, Micetich said, and that’s by design.

“Chronic Wasting Disease was discovered in McHenry County eight or so years ago and since we’ve been issuing more [hunting] permits trying to reduce the deer density,” he said.

But deer never have been very good at looking both ways before they cross the street, Micetich said.

From 2007 to 2010, the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office had an average of about 235 accidents per year that involved hitting or avoiding deer. In 2011, the office has reported only 85 – but the peak season hasn’t happened yet.

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, 17,132 crashes occurred statewide involving deer in 2010, accounting for 5.9 percent of total crashes. Ten people died in deer-related crashes and 634 were injured.

The majority – 77.2 percent – were on rural roadways and 67 percent occurred when it was dark. Schmidt’s crash happened about 6:45 p.m.

“Slow down a bit, especially at dawn and dusk where you have woodlands or streams intersecting with the roadway,” Micetich said.

Try to stop, but don’t swerve at risk of heading into oncoming traffic or hitting a stationary object.

“Chances are you’ll hurt yourself more than hitting the deer would have caused,” Micetich said.

Research on deer whistles, which are mounted on cars to help prevent crashes with deer, has shown that they don’t work, he said.

“The research that was done on several varieties has shown that deer paid little or no attention to them,” Micetich said. “In many cases, the sound emitted was out of their normal hearing range.”

“If you read the fine print on most deer whistles, they say the warranty of effectiveness is null and void if they’re dirty,” Micetich said.

Drivers can’t get far, especially on rural roads, without collecting some bugs, he said.

The best way to avoid a collision with a deer is to be alert and cautious, and where there’s one – like in Schmidt’s case – there’s likely another.

“Many people are like, ‘Oh, look at the deer,’ to the left and they hit the one coming from the right,” Micetich said. “Chances are there’s another one somewhere close by, especially in the doe-fawn groups.”

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