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Drivers beware; Deer on the move

MADISON - Reports from state wildlife biologists and archery deer hunters indicate that white-tailed deer are nearing their rut, or mating season, and deer movement will increase over the next few weeks, resulting in a significant increase in car-deer collisions.

State officials are urging motorists to protect themselves by being alert for deer darting into roadways creating collision dangers.

With a deer herd estimated at 1.5 to 1.7 million animals combined with a growing number of rural miles driven in the state, deer and vehicle collisions remain at dangerously high levels. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) reports that there were 12 fatal deer-vehicle crashes in Wisconsin in 2005, all involving motorcycles.

From July 1, 2005, through June 30, 2006, motorists struck and killed nearly 39,500 deer in Wisconsin, according to DOT records of deer removed by contractors from along roadways and permits issued to motorists to keep deer they hit. That number is significantly higher than the 17,555 deer-vehicle crashes that the Department of Transportation reported for calendar year 2005. That number only reflects reportable accidents with more than $1,000 damage to vehicles.

DNR conservation wardens and state and local law enforcement agencies urge all motorists to be on the lookout for deer, especially during the rut, which generally peaks from late October to mid November.

The five counties with the most reported vehicle-killed deer for 2005-2006 were Oconto (1,754), Marinette (1,722), Waupaca (1,478), Dane (1,282), and Fond du Lac (1,265).

DOT figures show the counties with the highest reportable deer-vehicle crashes in 2005 were Dane County (838), Waupaca County (726), and Shawano County (707).

The DNR pays private contractors to pick up and properly dispose of the deer carcasses. In the last fiscal year, contractors picked up 34,856 deer for a total cost of $783,060. Law enforcement officers issued free permits to motorists who claimed an additional 4,632 deer.

DNR conservation wardens and Wisconsin State Patrol officers advise motorists to watch the roadsides carefully for movement and be particularly alert in the early morning and evening when deer are moving around to feeding spots. Look for more deer to follow when one appears on a roadside and be especially cautious when road signs indicate a deer crossing area.

Reduce speed, tap the brakes to warn other drivers or sound the vehicle horn when a deer is visible on the roadside.

Other advice includes always wear your safety belt--there are fewer and less severe injuries in vehicle-deer crashes when safety belts are worn--and do not swerve, as it can confuse the deer as to where to run, and may place you in the path of oncoming traffic.

Anyone who is involved with a deer collision should stay in their vehicle and not touch the animal if it is still alive. Move the vehicle off the road if possible, and call a law enforcement agency.

In Wisconsin, a motorist who hits a deer with a vehicle is entitled to claim the animal, but must first have the deer tagged with a special free tag or receive authorization before transporting the deer. Contact the county sheriff's office to report the accident. An officer may come to the scene and tag the deer or direct the person to take it to a different location for tagging. Any other passing motorist may also claim the deer if the person who struck it does not want it by calling the sheriff's office to get the deer tagged.