October kicks off what deer call “motorcycle hunting season.” Drunk on fermented fruit and driven by their insatiable mating urges, white-tailed and mule deer all over North America are compelled by the shortening days to dash back and forth across the nearest stretch of road.
That’s good news for body shops but bad news for you. Only about two percent of car-deer collisions and 1.3 percent of truck-deer collisions result in human injuries. But 75 percent of bikers who hit a deer take an ambulance ride.
October And November
About half of those collisions occur in October and November. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration there were about one million deer collisions last year. Four hundred people died in those collisions and about 10,000 were injured. Half of these accidents occurred in 10 states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, Virginia, Minnesota, Texas, Indiana and South Carolina.
No matter how accomplished a rider you are when the pale deer of death comes for you, you probably won’t react in time. Deer, even the sober ones, don’t care how loud your pipes are or how fast you are going. Deer only react to your proximity. Typically, from late afternoon until early morning the deer you should know about browse near road shoulders. They will see and hear you coming and if the sound of a Harley bothered them at all they would move farther back into the trees. But in a typical deer strike the deer will just stand there.
Deer don’t react until you get within 60 feet of them. At a sedate 65 miles per hour a bike travels about 100 feet every second so if you do have a close encounter with Psycho-Bambi you will usually only have about half a second to react. And, the chances are you will do the wrong thing.
Most bikers habitually push one of their grips hard to try to countersteer around suddenly appearing obstacles. That works fine when a refrigerator falls off the pickup truck in front of you on the freeway. But, it doesn’t work for deer because those animals have evolved to avoid being eaten by wolves not to avoid motor vehicle collisions. In virtually every case deer jump straight ahead and then run in random zig-zags so you can’t avoid them. Speeding up doesn’t help either because that only increases the severity of a collision. The best you can do is slow down in deer country, brake hard the instant you recognize that unusual tree has big ears and don’t swerve.
According to a Cornell University professor of Biological and Environmental Engineering named Lynne Irwin the best place to hit a deer is in the flanks because “rib bones are flexible” and will absorb more of the impact than the hips.
Deer whistles don’t work. The animals don’t react to sounds they can’t identify.
And, finally, as we remind readers every time we do this story, if you hit a deer you get to eat it. Whether you have a hunting license or not, in most states the meat still belongs to you. The meat, the antlers and the skin are all yours.
So be careful, practice braking and if the worst happens enjoy your venison.