Animal Encounters

When the Buck Stops Right in Front of You

Hit a deer in your car and you might have to hitch a ride home with a tow-truck driver. Do it on a motorcycle and it’s far more likely to be in an ambulance. While very few car-deer encounters result in fatalities, a shocking number of bike-deer crashes put the rider in the hospital—or in the ground. In 2012, in Wisconsin alone, 13 of the 14 motor-vehicle-deer crash fatalities were motorcyclists, and 69.9 percent of bike-deer crashes resulted in injuries or fatalities. Given these sobering numbers, how do you avoid, or at least survive, a high-speed encounter with Bambi or his kin?

If you’re riding in deer country with friends or in a group, spread out. If a deer takes out one rider in a tightly packed group, the rest will go down like bowling pins; make yourselves a 7-10 split. Have a signal—a raised hand, boot out, or brake-light flashes—so anyone in the group who spots a danger can relay that information down the line.

Slow down, especially at night. When it’s cold and dark the natural urge is to wick it up and get home sooner. Night is also when deer feel safest wandering around doing deer stuff, like wondering what’s on the other side of the highway. The faster you’re going the less time you have to react. Also, you’re more likely to hit a deer at night, and the slower you’re going the better (for you, not necessarily for the deer). Stay alert during the day. Deer are most active between dusk and dawn, but they can cross the road any time. Cover your brake, and check your mirrors for tailgaters who might rear-end you if you have to stop suddenly. When you see the “Deer Crossing” sign turn off whatever distraction is coming through your helmet speakers and pay attention to your surroundings.

Deer often travel in groups. If you see one cross the road ahead, there might be another one in the brush waiting to see if his buddy made it without becoming road kill. Slow down until you’re past the point where they came out.

Finally, a word about deer whistles and other “as seen on TV!” warning devices. In theory, they produce a sound that frightens deer, causing them to flee. But a 2006 study conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia found several problems with these claims. About half the time the deer didn’t react to the deer whistle at all, possibly because they were accustomed to it (“Oh, there’s that funny noise again…”) or didn’t find it threatening; instead, they just stood there chewing leaves with a vacant look on their furry faces or went about their normal routine of crossing roads in front of speeding motorcycles.

Also, some commercially available devices the researchers tested didn’t actually make any sound at all that fell within the deer’s hearing range. The study concluded, “Considering the challenges of producing sound at appropriate intensities and distances from a moving vehicle, deer hearing capabilities, human safety concerns, and our observed lack of behavioral responses of deer to sound treatments, auditory deterrents do not appear to be appropriate for prevention of deer-vehicle collisions.”