“If you start jerking the wheel to miss the deer, you may hit something a lot worse,” said Sgt. Leslie White of the Mississippi Highway Patrol. “I have worked bad crashes where someone jerked the wheel to miss the deer and instead hit another car.”
Jim Walker of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks agreed.
“If it comes down your safety, take the animal down,” he said. “It’s not worth running into a bridge, running into another vehicle or tumbling down a steep embankment to miss the deer.”
Late December brews a perfect storm of factors to heighten deer-vehicle collisions. Short days and holiday travel mean people are driving more at night, when deer are most active and hardest to see.
Frequent winter rains hamper visibility, and the shortage of food by this time of year often compels the animals to roadsides for the grazing often available there.
Perhaps most dangerous of all is the rut – deer mating season – which can be anytime between early December and late January in Northeast Mississippi.
“The bottom line is that the rut makes them lose all sense of time and space,” Lann Wilf MDWFP wildlife bilogist said. “Bucks have the breeding season on their minds and pay little attention to cars; does being pursued by multiple bucks may be just as unaware.
“Deer are running around silly during rut,” Wilf said.
MDWFP’s Walker said the proof of the danger is visible behind many a repair shop door.
“I know people that own body shops, and they say they’re busier now than any other time of year,” he said.
Deer-vehicle crashes are so prevalent that several state transportation departments and universities have created an information clearinghouse to share data and solutions.
Iowa created a “Don’t Veer for Deer” public awareness campaign after researchers there found most human injuries and deaths in deer crashes happened when drivers tried to avoid the animals.
While deer provide the greatest danger, wild hogs are a growing phenomenon in Mississippi. But because they shy away from human activity, crashes with them have been rare in the Magnolia State so far, Wilf said.