It's that season again, and I don't mean the holidays. November is the month when deer collide regularly with motorists on interstates and back roads across the country. So insurer State Farm is warning you to watch out for our antlered friends.
The number of deer-related collisions nationwide has increased by nearly 8 percent in recent years, says our largest car insurance company, with more than 1.2 million collisions this past year alone. Two hundred people died and, if you've seen the side of most roads, a much larger number of deer.
In the most accident-prone state for deer, West Virginia, your chances of hitting a doe or buck this year are one in 40. There are a lot of dented pickup trucks in the Mountain State.
So why are deer and cars attracted to each other, but in a negative way? And why do so many of these accidents take place in November? The answer is a "tail" of love and death.
One reason for the increase in collisions: More deer, as well as drivers, are on the roads.
"I even had a deer run into me while I was running," complained one jogger I know.
Naturalists and hunters say that recent warm winters have increased the deer population, but most states have done little to lower the burgeoning herds the only way possible: killing them. "There are fewer hunters to cull them," says my Wisconsin cousin who's a bow hunter. "And our children are not deer hunting."
In fact, the most common reaction to deer is not to shoot, but rather to admire.
"I love to watch the Bambis of our world run," says Dick Luedke, a spokesperson for State Farm, which is based in the cornfield country of central Illinois. "They are so fast and graceful."
Deer are fast and graceful, but none too smart, say some experts, which is why the phrase "deer in the headlights" has become synonymous with animal stupidity.
But I'm not convinced. Deer have managed to survive and remain independent, even in the midst of suburban sprawl. I once saw three deer on a corner in Princeton, N.J., waiting for a break in the traffic so they could cross the street. They could have come from the nearby university campus.
That championship season
Deer mating season is compressed into only one short month of, you guessed it, November, which is why so many deer accidents happen then. If their fawns aren't born during late spring, they will not survive.
For deer, November is like a James Bond movie. The bucks and does are out looking for a romantic rendezvous. But since hunting season has just started, there are a lot of camouflaged killers out with lures, deer calls and high-tech locating devices. So it's not surprising that these normally peaceful creatures will ram SUVs, or stare down eighteen-wheelers. In this short season of lust and paranoia, deer and humans throw caution to the wind.
Don't honk a moose
So if you're behind the wheel, show compassion for our deer friends and heed insurers' advice on how to avoid collisions. Remove those silly deer whistles, which don't work anyway, from your car bumper. Turn on your high beams to catch their shadows when they congregate on the side of the road. Use caution after sunset when deer are likely to be more amorous and less careful.
One more piece of advice. Remember that deer aren't the only animals to go crazy during mating season. A friend was driving his Volkswagen Beetle on a country road in Maine when he was forced to slam on the brakes. In the middle of the road stood a rather lovesick but nearsighted moose. My friend grew impatient and mistakenly honked his horn.
It was love at first sound … for the moose anyway.