It happens every fall – an unsuspecting motorist is driving along and strikes a deer that is trying to cross the road.
Deer-mating season, combined with hunters combing the woods for big bucks, around this time each year means more four-legged grazers frolicking near the roadways, creating a potentially hazardous situation for motorists traveling in McHenry County.
“They never look both ways because they have other things on their minds,” said Tom Micetich, deer project manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “Deer figure out it’s not safe to be in the woods with the guys in orange, so they take their chances with a Buick.”
Despite a decline in the number of deer-related crashes in McHenry, Lake and Kane counties combined the past two years, numbers are up in McHenry County, according to data from the Illinois Department of Transportation. The three-county area has accounted for about 6 percent of the total number of accidents statewide in 2011 and 2012.
McHenry, Lake and Kane counties had 888 deer-related accidents with 36 injuries in 2012 compared with 1,006 and 47 in 2012, according to IDOT. In McHenry County, there were 279 accidents with 13 injuries in 2012, up from 251 and 13 the previous year.
The year-over-year IDOT data track deer-related accidents involving vehicle damage of more than $1,500. Prior to 2009, accidents involving damage of more than $500 were recorded by the state.
Statewide, there was a 14 percent decline in traffic crashes involving deer, down to 15,489 in 2012 compared with 18,044 in 2011, data show. That includes four deaths and 608 injuries in 2012, down from six deaths and 613 injuries the previous year.
Deer-related accidents in the three counties were responsible for one death in the past three years, according to the state, none in McHenry County.
The chance for more deer on the roadway typically increases in mid-October through December with the beginning of mating season as well as hunting season. Crop harvesting season also moves deer from one locale to another.
Early mornings and evenings – especially dawn and dusk – are considered to have the highest deer activity near roadways, experts said. Areas with creeks and rivers, woodlands, and wooden fence rows intersecting roads tend to have the most accidents.
“The road isn’t going to stop them from moving around,” Micetich said. “They can pop up anywhere.”
A sign of relief this deer season may come in the form of a recent survey released by auto insurer State Farm that predicts a 10 percent decrease in the likelihood of a collision with a deer to 1-in-214 chance, compared with a 1-in-162 chance last fiscal year.
The survey was based on claims data and state licenses driver counts from the Federal Highway Administration.
Nationally, the auto insurer calculated the chance of a motorist striking a deer over the next year at 1-in-174.
Deer hunting began in October with archery season, which runs through Jan. 19, 2014. Firearm season has two time periods, Nov. 22 through Nov. 24, and Dec. 5 through Dec. 8.
Harvest numbers taken in January were similar to last year, when more than 200 deer – 20 percent of the total harvest – were killed during archery and firearm season, according to the McHenry County Conservation District.
“We expect hunters to have a really good year again,” said Brad Woodson, natural resource supervisor for the conservation district. “It’s a very balanced population throughout the county.”
Factors that could affect deer population this season include a lower presence of those found with chronic wasting disease and epizootic hemorrhagic disease after an outbreak last year.
Chronic wasting disease attacks the brains of infected deer, moose and elk, causing them to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior and loose coordination, and eventually die.
Epizootic hemorrhagic disease, a viral disease, is spread through biting gnats, which cause high fever and severe internal bleeding in deer.
All hunters are encouraged to get their deer tested for disease, but there has been no connection between human illnesses from eating the infected meat, Micetich said.