Every fall, motorists are cautioned to remain alert while on roadways because of the significant rise in deer-vehicle collisions (DVC). According to the Insurance Information Institute, there is a dramatic increase in the movement of deer “during deer season” resulting in over 1.5 million DVCs annually and “more than $1 billion in auto damage.”
State Farm Insurance confirms this phenomenon, noting that in 2015, “one out of 169 drivers will have a claim from hitting a deer, elk or moose”, and these odds “more than double” during the heavily hunted months of October, November and December.
The media and the hunting contingent routinely attribute this spike in roadway hazards to emboldened, testosterone-crazed bucks in hot pursuit of females. However, the majority of road-killed deer during breeding season are not antlered (i.e., are not mature males), dispelling the myth that horny deer are oblivious to roadway hazards. In fact, evidence suggests that to the contrary, it is terrified deer fleeing hunters who are the victims of increased DVCs in the fall.
One would reasonably expect that if erratic breeding season behavior was the true cause of increased DVCs in the fall, supporting studies and data would be abundant, especially given the frequency of these events, the cost in human and animal lives, property damage, etc., as well as the popularity of the claim itself. Although media claims and propaganda blaming deer for these tragic happenings are rampant, any critical studies to support the notion that rutting deer cause accidents in the fall are utterly lacking.
In fact, the one recent study uncovered by the Center for Wildlife Ethics addressing the tremendous uptick in autumn deer-vehicle collisions suggests a human-created cause. “Relationship of Autumn Hunting Season to the Frequency of Deer-Vehicle Collisions in Michigan,” a 2006 study, suggests (and logic dictates), hunting is quite likely a contributing factor in the increased number of DVCs – most of which occur during the early morning and early evening hours – preferred hunting periods.
The study recommended further work examining the relationship between hunting season, rutting behavior and DVC frequency; yet ten years after its publication, it does not appear that any further work has been commissioned.
Why is that? Is it possible that the issue of DVCs is being avoided deliberately because of the negative ramifications such research may have on the hunting industry?
Remember, hunters typically use the tragic consequences of deer-vehicle collisions to bolster public support of recreational killing. They claim to provide a public service through white-tailed deer reductions – theoretically, reducing the number of DVCs.
The hunting contingent’s claims of public service are misleading. Deer populations are deliberately manipulated to record-setting levels for the sole purpose of providing an abundance of live targets for hunters to shoot. Larger populations lead to more competition for food, territories and mates, and ultimately, more roadway hazards.
It is illogical to believe that hunters and their violent hobby are not a contributing factor to DVCs. The disruptive presence and predatory activities of hunters in deer habitat cause these nervous animals of prey to panic and bolt blindly across roadways while fleeing hunters, their vehicles, and of course, their lethal projectiles.
Any disruption in the deer’s environment and normal patterns of behavior is further compounded by hunters who hide in trees and douse themselves in estrous deer or dominant buck urine – substances that are sure to stimulate buck activity.
If the hunting community truly believed its own unsubstantiated assertions alleging that the sexual arousal of bucks in rut was to blame for these hazardous accidents, then the application of either of these substances make hunters culpable to some degree. Similarly, wildlife managers who deliberately manipulate deer populations to artificially high numbers for the benefit of local hunters should be held equally responsible.
 The Journal of Wildlife Management, 704(4): 1161-1164 (2006).