FAIRMONT – Like a deer in headlight may be a cliche, but the idiom is one based in fact, and it’s one many West Virginia drivers have probably experienced.
Deer are constantly on the move in late fall and early winter, because of the shift in food sources and because it’s the start of mating season.
“Definitely deer are moving more this time of year than they were in the summer,” said Steve Rauch, district wildlife biologist for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. “The deer are having to move a little bit more to find food sources, which of course, that movement increases their chance of crossing roads.”
Rauch said deer may be more prone to cross roads during the coming months, which can lead to more car accidents. Because West Virginia is a fairly rural state with many roads that run alongside the woods, travelers need to be aware of the possibility of deer running wild to avoid incident.
“At Interstate, highway speeds, people can’t stop and slow down in time,” Rauch said. “One thing with the rural roads in West Virginia, there are woods right up against the roads a lot of times and you can’t see them coming as readily.”
This situation is common in the winter, and deer can cause damage to cars and other vehicles when they collide at even low speeds. Marion County Sheriff Jimmy Riffle said the Sheriff’s Department gets calls about vehicle and deer collisions. He urge drivers to watch out on rural roads.
“This time of year with hunting season, you’re going to see an increase in vehicle versus deer collisions,” Riffle said. “People in the woods put pressure on deer, so they’re moving a lot more during daylight hours. We’re asking drivers just to be aware of it, and pay attention to your surroundings.”
According to Rauch, deer are ever present in West Virginia. Although the extended dark hours can contribute to deer accidents in an area, he said that people should exercise caution when driving rural roads throughout the year.
“The population in Marion County is well, healthy and there are a good many animals out there,” Rauch said. “Really, you should just be aware any time of the year because we just have so many rural road miles that you should always be keeping an eye out for deer standing alongside the road.”
Drive any city street in West Fairmont around dusk and there’s a high chance drivers will see deer on the campus of Fairmont State University, at Fairmont Regional Medical Center or on the grounds of Anthony Chevrolet on Country Club Road.
Riffle said his department has seen car-deer collisions cause serious damage to vehicles and even injure drivers or passengers. For this reason, it’s even more important for people to examine their surroundings when driving at high speeds.
“As in any accident there is a potential for injury involved,” Riffle said. “There’s also more traffic because of the holidays this time of year so people just need to be aware.”
Rauch said the West Virginia Division of Highways has workers who clear the state roads of road kill, so when a deer accident is reported to authorities, they are the ones who clean it up.
“The Department of Highways, they are responsible for keeping the roadways open,” Rauch said. “So they will pick up when they can and where they have to; Collect the carcasses to keep the roads open and safe for travel.”
While deer are thought of as nocturnal animals, Rauch said, they can be active at any time of the day, especially in the winter. With this in mind, he advises W.Va. drivers to be careful for the next few months.
“They can be active any time of the day,” Rauch said. “Early in the morning or late in the evening, they will increase their activity, but they can be around at any time of the day.”