In a mostly rural area like Cherokee County, many drivers experience apprehension this time of year while traveling the highways and back roads, and with good reason: Chances are good they’ll eventually hit a deer.
“Vehicles striking deer and other animals is actually a year-round problem,” said Tony Clark, game warden for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “However, the deer are starting into breeding season, and they get kind of stupid. What normally would scare them sometimes doesn’t this time of year.”
Collisions with animals received some extra publicity recently when an Owasso man was killed in Tulsa County Nov. 1, thrown from his motorcycle after striking a deer.
While deer may pose a visible danger to motorists on Oklahoma roads, Clark said many animals are on the move as the weather turns cold.
“Pretty much everything is looking for its winter dens,” he said. “Squirrels are out foraging, snakes, raccoons - and coyotes can cause damage, too.”
Capt. George Brown, spokesman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, said the measures to avoid an animal collision are often a matter of obeying laws and accounting for circumstances.
“The first thing we ask is that people not exceed the speed limit,” Brown said. “The limits are established to keep people safe. You might even want to go slower at night or in unlit areas. It is also important to know the terrain and the deer population. Don’t assume you’ll only see deer on back roads. Due to urban development, and rural development, a lot of wildlife is being pushed into heavily populated areas.”
Brown also urged drivers to keep their vehicles in good working order – particularly headlights and high-beams, to allow effective scans of the road.
“Check the ditches and woodlines,” he said. “You’re traveling at 90 feet a second at 60 miles an hour, and the average reaction to a road hazard takes about a second-and-a-half. You can travel nearly 50 yards between seeing a deer and applying the brake.”
Some drivers install deer whistles on their vehicles, though their effectiveness is debated.
The whistles are supposed to emit a high-frequency sound inaudible to humans, but within the hearing range of deer and other animals. The sound is intended to warn animals of the approaching vehicle. Studies by the University of Wisconsin, the University of Georgia and the Farm Journal yielded disappointing findings that showed little difference in animal reactions with or without the whistles.
“I’m not sure there is much science to support the idea that deer whistles work,” Clark said. “However, if you live in an area with a heavy deer population, and the whistles aren’t very expensive, I say go ahead and install one if you want. It’s just one more precaution.”
Clark said drivers should know that if all else fails, they can keep any deer they strike with their vehicles.
“First it must be ensured that the deer is dead,” Clark said.
“If it is still alive, it probably needs to be dispatched. Once the deer is dead, the driver can contact the ODWC, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the local sheriff’s office or police department to report it and keep the animal meat, even if it is out of season. I think a lot of people let the deer lay because they don’t know they can keep it.”
However, logging the animal’s death and keeping the carcass means taking the whole animal.
“You can’t take parts,” Clark said. “If you just take the head or antlers, that can be a $1,000 fine.”
To learn more about the frequency of vehicle-deer collisions, go to www.tahlequahTDP.com