Beware of deer on the highway

Commentary

The beginning of November ushers in the breeding season for deer, commonly referred to as the “rut.”

The peak of the rut in Pennsylvania typically occurs for about two weeks from early to mid-November. During the rut, even the wiliest old bucks allow the mating urge to trump their well-honed natural caution as they prowl relentlessly for potential mates, so many bowhunters eagerly await the final weeks of the fall archery season. And both bucks and does engaged in their breeding rituals will do some crazy things during this time, like bolting across a busy highway at any time of the day or night.

Drivers in this region shouldn’t need to be reminded of the possibility of encountering deer crossing the highway almost any time of year. Insurance provider State Farm ranks Pennsylvania third among all the states for the percentage of drivers involved in a collision with a deer or other large animal, so if you haven’t hit a deer, you probably have had a close call at one time or another.

While deer-vehicle collisions are year-round occurrences, the odds of hitting a deer, especially during the daytime, increase this time of year for several reasons. Besides the rut, farmers harvesting crops or cutting cornfields can push deer across a road. Small-game hunters often inadvertently flush deer from their daytime hideouts.

I speak from experience when I say hitting a deer can be an unsettling and expensive event. Even a hunter doesn’t like to kill or injure a wild animal in that fashion, not to mention having to deal with the time and expense of getting your car repaired. But deer can be unpredictable, darting into the roadway without warning and giving even the best driver no chance to avoid striking the animal.

There are also some rules and regulations that must be complied with at the scene of the accident. If the deer is severely injured but still alive, know that you may not legally “put it out of its misery.” As harsh as that sounds, doing so could subject you to fines and penalties for illegally killing a deer. Call 911 and have them dispatch Game Commission personnel or a local law-enforcement officer to dispatch the animal, especially if the deer is near the highway and could present a hazard to other motorists.

If the deer is dead and not too beat-up from the collision, the driver is permitted to take the deer for the meat. If the driver does not want the animal, another passing motorist may claim the carcass. Only Pennsylvania residents may take road-killed deer and after doing so must call the appropriate Game Commission regional office within 24 hours to report the incident and receive a free permit number allowing you to possess the carcass. In Blair, Bedford or Huntingdon counties, call the Southcentral Regional Office at 643-1831 or 643-9635; in Centre or Clearfield counties, call the Northcentral Regional Office at 570-398-4744 or 570-398-4745; in Cambria County, call the Southwest Regional Office at 724-238-9523 or 724-238-9524. Deer-vehicle collisions are not required to be reported to the Game Commission if you are not taking possession of the deer. To report a dead deer for removal from state roads, call the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation at 1-800-FIX-ROAD.

Another issue for picking up road-killed deer in our area are the rules related to chronic wasting disease that prohibit the removal of high-risk deer parts, essentially the head and backbone, from any of the two established Disease Management Areas (DMA) in Pennsylvania. Those parts must be removed before the deer is transported outside a DMA. In our region all of Bedford and Fulton counties, most of Blair and Franklin counties, and large parts of Cambria, Somerset, Fulton, Adams and Cumberland counties are now included in DMA 2. Parts of Clearfield and Jefferson counties are included in DMA 3. Complete information regarding high-risk parts and DMA maps is available on the Game Commission website: www.pgc.state.pa.us.

One last rule regarding road-killed deer is it is illegal to remove the antlers for a road-killed buck, unless you are taking possession of the carcass. And if you do take a road-killed buck for the meat, the antlers must be turned over to the Game Commission. Or you may purchase the antlers from the Game Commission for $10 a point.

Isn’t it curious that hitting a deer on a public highway can do thousands of dollars of damage to your vehicle, not to mention that deer also deer do incredible amounts of damage to trees, shrubs, gardens and farm crops on private property each year, yet the Game Commission assumes no liability or responsivity for deer whatsoever. Yet if a deer dashes onto the road and destroys your car, they have the colossal arrogance to claim ownership of the antlers and expect payment for them.

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