As the temperature drops, and fall foliage blanket the land in glorious hues, another natural event is taking place. It is the time of the rut, or mating season, for Odocoileus virginianus, the white-tailed deer.
This medium–sized mammal is native to the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and South America as far south as Peru. In the summer, the white-tailed deer thrives in fields and meadows, finding shade in small tracts of deciduous and coniferous forest. In the winter, they retreat to the forest, preferably to one consisting of coniferous species, for the best coverage from the elements. White-tails are herbivores, leisurely feeding and browsing from a wide variety of plants such as leaves, twigs, fruits, nuts, grass, corn, alfalfa, and even lichens and other fungi.
The coat of the adult white-tailed deer is a reddish-brown, with young deer or fawns sporting white spots for camouflage. In winter, the adult coat fades to a duller gray. Male deer, or bucks, are most noticeable for their rack, or antlers. These are different from horns in that they shed and grow back every year. The antlers consist of many sharp tines, or points, that aid in protection and competitive battles during the mating season. After the rut, the antlers drop just in time for the harsh winter months. The antlers require a lot of energy and nutrients such as calcium; therefore, they don’t grow back until food is available in the warmer months of spring. Female deer or does do not grow antlers. They are smaller than males and give birth to one to three fawns in May or June after a gestation of seven months.
Deer are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. Mix this lifestyle with the time of the rut, and you have trouble for both deer and automobile drivers. Due to increasing suburban sprawl, habitat change, and a lack of natural predators, white-tailed deer numbers have reached 30 million today. This has led to a strict game management policy, but deer and automobile accidents are still a problem. These fall weeks are “fraught for drivers, deer, and the nation’s car insurers,” according to the New York Times in 2010. Deer-car collisions are costly. State Farm Insurance estimates that deer collisions over the past two years reached 2.3 million, up 21 percent compared from five years ago, and still more encounters go unreported. The chance for accidents during the rut increases from October to December with a peak in November. As bucks chase does, they don’t seem to care if this takes them across roadways. The accidents are usually fatal for the deer and lead to other accidents and the loss of human lives.
So how can one lessen their chances for a deer strike? First, lower your speed. By driving slower, especially through areas where deer tend to congregate, you are better able to react if a deer crosses your path. Next, pay attention to deer signs; they are there for a reason. These signs signal places where deer are likely to cross, especially if the area lies at the point of a turn or curve in the road. Also, pay attention to the time of day. If it is dawn or dusk, be more aware. Keep a look out and drive slower. If someone rides your bumper as a result, don’t let this intimidate you. By following these tips, the fall will be a less dangerous time for drivers, and deer will better enjoy their rut.