November, that romantic season for deer, is also prime time for a head-on collision with a buck or doe.
This year, the state is asking motorists to pay extra attention to the fall breeding season for white-tailed deer.
“Bucks are pursuing females that may be in heat. They’re just running and chasing them in pretty much any direction,” said Andrew Labonte, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “They have no awareness of their surroundings… they’re going to be crossing roads at an alarming rate this time of year.”
Indeed, more car vs. deer accidents happen in November between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. than during any other single-hour span in any month of the year, according to researchers at the University of Connecticut. The municipalities of Simsbury, Groton, Danbury, Glastonbury, Orange and Woodbridge lead the state in the number of car-deer crashes.
Worsening the problem is the fact that bucks tend to be the most active at dawn and dusk, so deer pursuits are the most prevalent during rush hour, when roadways are the busiest. DEEP is trying to raise public awareness in the hopes that it could prevent deadly deer crashes from threatening the safety of Connecticut’s drivers.
“If you take your eyes off the road, there’s a strong likelihood this time of year that there could be a deer coming across the road in front of you,” Labonte said. He emphasized that this time of year is different from other months, when motorists may see deer grazing on the side of the road. “This time of year, they will be running.”
The state Department of Transportation has put up “Deer Crossing” signs throughout the state, often in response to motorists who phone in reports. But, Labonte said, there’s not much the state can do to control where deer cross the road — and if these signs were to go up everywhere deer were crossing, you would “essentially have a deer crossing every couple hundred feet.”
“If you can’t educate the deer to cross at the signs, it’s more about alerting motorists that deer do cross,” Labonte said.
Connecticut’s estimated white-tailed deer population is roughly 120,000, down from 150,000 a decade ago. There has been a corresponding drop in deer-vehicle crashes. Last year, roughly 6,500 deer were killed by cars, according to the DEEP — half the annual average of 15,000 fatal deer accidents in the early 2000s.
Drivers in West Virginia are the most likely to file a claim involving a collision with a deer, elk or moose, with a 1 in 44 chance, according to State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. Nationally, the odds are 1 in 169, while the cost-per-claim averages $4,135.
When a deer is hit by a car, the local, state and environmental police who respond complete a “wildlife kill incident report.”
The problem is most serious in the densely populated area of Fairfield County and the shoreline towns. Fairfield County accounts for roughly 30 percent of the deer kills annually, Labonte said. He explained that the “urban interface” in that part of the state essentially creates a deer reservoir because there are far fewer places to hunt in those areas.
Over the past decade, DEEP has expanded deer management efforts — by allowing hunters to harvest more deer and to use bait. Sunday bow-hunting went into effect in October of this year. The white-tailed deer harvest is predicted to be smaller than usual this hunting season, however, because plentiful food supplies make it less likely that deer will come in contact with a hunter.
Courant Staff Writer Stephen Busemeyer contributed to this story.