If you think you're seeing more deer as you drive around, it's because the fall breeding season of white-tailed deer is here.
The state Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife is warning drivers to be alert for the deer, especially during morning and evening commutes when visibility may be poor and deer are more active.
“White-tailed deer are on the move and unpredictable during this season,” said Division of Fish and Wildlife Director David Chanda in a prepared statement. “Deer are much more likely to dart into roads without warning at this time of year. Drivers should be extra alert to avoid collisions that could result in injuries and damage to their vehicles.”
According to the DEP, studies indicate the peak of the mating season for the Ocean County area and the rest of the state occurs in late October and throughout November and December.
Deer are on the move, the DEP warns: "Triggered by shorter days and cooler weather, deer disperse and move around considerably as they search for mates. Deer behavior is likely to be sudden and unpredictable."
Some of the breeding season behavior includes: deer will wander closer to and onto roadways. They may suddenly stop in the middle of a road, crossing and even re-crossing it. The danger is particularly pronounced at dawn and dusk when many people are commuting to and from work. Visibility resulting from low light or sun glare may be difficult during these times.
“This is a tricky time of year for drivers,’’ said DEP Supervising Wildlife Biologist Carol Stanko. “There are probably as many deer killed in New Jersey each year by cars and trucks than as by hunters.’’
There were 30,866 deer struck by vehicles in the state in 2010, according to an insurance industry estimate, which is considered to be conservative in its count.
Last year, Toms River saw about 150 accidents where vehicle and deer collided.
In December, traffic safety Sgt. Chris Dudzik of the Toms River Police Department said the area of Whitesville Road, which borders both residential and wooded areas, was a common scene for these types of collisions, with 25 occurring there last year.
Dudzik explained that there are local areas where it’s not heavily-populated and more wooded, and being that December ends the mating season for deer, more of them are out and about.
The traffic safety sergeant added that in the case of a collision where an animal is still alive after the crash, police will humanely put down the animal as needed and make sure that it’s not impeding the roadway. Authorities also will secure state assistance in removing the bodies of dead animals from the roadside.
“There is actually one guy for the whole of state of New Jersey who helps to dispose of animal carcasses from roadside collisions,” Dudzik said.
Chief Michael Mastronardy said the wooded areas, over by the Ocean County Mall, Church Road, Fischer Boulevard, Route 37 West, and Whitesville Road are all likely spots to see deer crossings.
Here's what the DEP has to say about driving during mating season:
- If you spot a deer, slow down and pay attention to possible sudden movement. If the deer doesn’t move, don’t go around it. Wait for the deer to pass and the road is clear.
- Pay attention to “Deer Crossing” signs. They are there for a reason. Slow down when traveling through areas known to have a high concentration of deer so you will have ample time to stop if necessary.
- If you are traveling after dark, use high beams when there is no oncoming traffic. High beams will be reflected by the eyes of deer on or near roads.
- If you see one deer, be on guard: others may be in the area. Deer typically move in family groups at this time of year and cross roads single-file. Female deer are being chased by bucks and during breeding phase are often unaware of traffic.
- Don’t tailgate. Remember: the driver in front of you might have to stop suddenly to avoid hitting a deer.
- Always wear a seatbelt, as required by law. Drive at a safe and sensible speed, taking into account weather, available lighting, traffic, curves and other road conditions.
- If a collision appears inevitable, do not swerve to avoid impact. The deer may counter-maneuver suddenly. Brake firmly, but stay in your lane. Collisions are more likely to become fatal when a driver swerves to avoid a deer and instead collides with oncoming traffic or a fixed structure along the road.
- Report any deer-vehicle collision to a local law enforcement agency immediately.
For more information about white-tailed deer in New Jersey, visit: http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/deer.htm
Patch writer Nick Malfitano contributed to this article.