ESCANABA - While hunters will be welcoming deer in their sights when Michigan's firearm deer season starts Thursday, motorists are advised to also look out for deer to avoid unwanted encounters with their vehicles.
"With fall and the hunting season in full swing, deer populations will be on the move," advised Delta County Sheriff Gary Ballweg. "This activity heightens the chance of a car/deer crash occurring."
So far this year, 216 vehicle/deer crashes have been reported to the sheriff's department, Ballweg said. Typically, these accidents occur more often during the months of October and November with about 50 incidents a month being reported to the department, he said.
Last year, a total of 313 vehicle/deer accidents were reported to the sheriff's department compared to the 296 incidents reported by drivers in 2010, the sheriff said.
Statewide last year, more than 60,000 accidents in Michigan involved deer, noted Ballweg. In Delta County, a total of 738 deer crashes were reported to police agencies including one fatal accident and 12 accidents resulting in injuries.
"Most often, you'll see a deer near dawn or dusk," cautioned Ballweg, encouraging motorists to look beyond the beam of their headlights for eyes of deer ahead.
"Trying to dodge a deer is not a good idea," he said. "Deer often move erratically and swerving may cause you to lose control of your vehicle. The best way to avoid a deer/car collision is to slow your car down."
Ballweg also noted that deer travel together, so chances are if one is seen, there may be more; motorists are advised to proceed with caution.
"Remember to heed deer crossing signs," added Ballweg. "If you do hit a deer, make sure you report it to your local police or the sheriff's office."
Trooper Dave Cowen, of the Michigan State Police Post in Gladstone, said 122 car/deer accidents have been reported at the post from Sept. 1 through Monday. In addition, there have been four car/bear accidents and one car/partridge accident reported.
The number of car/deer crashes in the region is likely higher, he added. Many accidents go unreported because of a small amount of damage or drivers do not have insurance to cover deer damage and do not report the collisions, said Cowen.
Most accidents involving deer often occur during dawn and dusk hours in the spring and fall, the trooper noted, advising drivers to: "Slow down and don't out-drive your headlights."
According to the Michigan State Police Traffic Crash Reporting System, while 738 car/deer accidents were reported in Delta County in 2011, a total of 231 incidents were reported in Schoolcraft County resulting in injuries to three persons. Menominee car/deer crash reports totaled 539 last year resulting in 20 injured persons.
From Sept. 1 through Nov. 8, the Menominee County Sheriff Department received reports of 95 car/deer accidents, according to Sheriff Kenny Marks. That number has risen during the past week, he said this morning.
"November is the peak time (for car/deer accidents). Right now the deer are in a heavy rut. They're chasing does right now." Marks said. His advice to motorists is to be aware, drive slow, and take your time, especially around dusk and dawn hours.
In Schoolcraft County, the sheriff's department has received reports of only nine accidents involving deer, said Sheriff Grant Harris on Tuesday.
"In 2011, there were 4,799 accidents involving deer throughout the entire Upper Peninsula," noted Harris. "Schoolcraft County had 231 or 4.8 percent of those Upper Peninsula motor vehicle/deer accidents."
Most of Schoolcraft County's 231 car/deer accidents reported to police agencies last year, occurred in unlighted areas on U.S. 2 during hours of darkness, he said.
The highest period of accidents U.P.-wide last year was from October to December with 1,803 incidents, or 37.6 percent of the region's accidents, said Harris. November was the highest month when 675 car/deer accidents were reported across the U.P., he added.
When asked what the best defense is for drivers to avoid colliding with deer, Harris referred to suggestions on the Michigan State Police website which states there are more than 60,000 reported vehicle/deer crashes in the state each year.
The website also states that while Michigan's two million deer are most active in spring and fall, vehicle/deer crashes are a year-round problem with about 80 percent of these crashes occurring on two-lane roads between dusk and dawn.
The most serious crashes occur when motorists swerve to avoid a deer and hit another vehicle or a fixed object, or when their vehicle rolls over, according to the Michigan State Police website which also offers these tips to avoid a crash:
Stay aware, awake and sober.
Vehicle/deer crashes occur year-round, but mostly in spring and fall.
Signs are placed at known deer crossing areas to alert drivers of the possible presence of deer.
Deer are herd animals and frequently travel in single file. If one deer crosses the road, chances are there are more.
Be alert for deer, especially at dawn and dusk. If one is seen, slow down.
If a crash is unavoidable, the website advises drivers not to swerve. Brake firmly, hold onto the steering wheel and bring the vehicle to a controlled stop. Pull off the road, turn on emergency flashers and be cautious of other traffic. Report the crash to the nearest police agency and one's insurance company. Remember to buckle up because safety belts are the best defense in the event of a crash, the website states.