How-To: Driving Near Rut-Addled Deer

Here's how to avoid harvesting a trophy buck ... with your bumper.

posted on October 27, 2022
Deer In Headlights
There's a reason we use the phrase "deer in the headlights" to describe someone whose brain has vapor-locked ...

Depending on where you are in the country, it's either whitetail breeding season, or about to be. Hunters and outdoorspeople refer to this time as "the rut," and it's a hunter's best chance to harvest a trophy buck. That's because, simply put, deer lose a lot of their sense of self-preservation during the rut. During this time, deer behave erratically by moving at different times of day and in different places than you may expect. From now through the end of November, America's whitetails only have one thing on their minds, and it's definitely not looking both ways before they cross the street. 

The good news is that this makes it easier to hunt deer with a rifle, bow or shotgun. The bad news is that this makes it much too easy to hunt them with your bumper. The majority of deer-vehicle collisions happen at this time of year, and those are almost as dangerous for the drivers as they are for the deer. Whitetails Unlimited has some hints about what to do to avoid taking a trophy with your Tahoe this fall.

First, know that deer are most active right around dusk and dawn. If you're driving then, it's important to keep your eyes on the roadside as well as the road. If you can safely use your high beams without blinding other drivers, now's the time. That said, you should also know that deer really do become "hypnotized" by a light shone in their eyes, and if your headlights catch them, the deer may stand frozen.

Second, you should know that deer travel in groups. If you see one, chances are that there are more nearby. They will not be deterred by any interaction you've had with the other deer, either.

Finally, know that deer deterrent devices like whistles and reflectors don't really work. The animals simply don't understand them as danger signals. (There is some anecdotal evidence that they do react to objects that move in a "natural" way, like flags attached to a car's antenna.) Of course, trying these things won't do any harm, but you definitely shouldn't rely on them. The best way to avoid hitting a deer is simply to slow down.

That's because deer will often behave as if they're trying to be hit. If a deer is in your path, don't try to swerve; as often as not, the animal will turn directly into your new path. Instead, brake firmly and honk your horn. 

Please be safe while hitting the roads this fall, and don't harvest a deer the hard way. (For advice on how to do it properly, check out our Hunting page!) 

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