Fall may be close to over, but, when it comes to the risk of hitting a deer, drivers aren’t out of the woods yet, say officials from PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Mating season and hunting season — buck season starts Monday — are keeping deer on the go, and that can mean into the path of vehicles.
“The activity level is really high right now, and with the hunting season starting, we have a really big influx of deer movement right now,” said Jack Lucas, a game commission land management supervisor whose territory covers Indiana, as well as Cambria, Somerset and Westmoreland counties.
This time of the year is typically the highest for deer-vehicle collision, he said. The times when drivers should be most careful are dawn and dusk.
“If people are more alert at those times for deer, it would be a little bit safer for them,” he said. “Typically, also if one deer is crossing the road, more than likely, there’s two or three.”
And what happens if a driver happens to have an unfortunate encounter with one of those deer? Once the damage is done, some municipalities send out their own workers to clear the roadway, Lucas said.
But on state roadways, PennDOT handles the job when notified about a deer crash.
“There’s several ways we get notified,” said Michael Shanshala, acting assistant district executive for maintenance in PennDOT District 10, which covers Indiana. “Either our own people see them or the public calls one of our county offices.”
From there, PennDOT has what Shanshala calls a “dedicated deer truck.” The truck includes a lift to remove the dead deer from the road. Deer are then disposed of.
Some of the District 10 counties, which include Armstrong, Butler, Clarion and Jefferson, use 24-hour on-call contractors to manage the pickups. Indiana is not one of them.
“We have a vehicle assigned to pick up deer and an operator,” Shanshala said. “When a deer is called in, he goes out and picks it up and moves it off the road.”
About 1,200 deer had been picked up this year through Oct. 31 in Indiana County, according to Shanshala. Since July, he said, 417 have been removed — 184 of those in October.
Throughout the five-county region of PennDOT’s District 10, about 5,600 have been removed from state roadways. Shanshala said it costs more than $500,000 to pick up dead deer in his district, including costs for staffing and fuel.
“It’s not a cheap proposition to move dead deer off the roadways,” he said.
In addition to being particularly cautious at dawn at dusk, Shanshala said to be careful in areas where there are agricultural fields on one side of the road and wooded spots on the other. And take heed of “deer crossing” signs, he said. They’re posted for good reason.
If a driver does hit a deer, Shanshala offers the following advice:
• If your vehicle is damaged, pull over to a safe spot so your car doesn’t get hit by passing motorists.
On a related note, if a driver sees an accident or a worker removing a deer on a four-lane road, they should move to the left lane. If traveling on a two-lane road, he said, slow down and be careful, making sure that no one is coming the other way as you drive around.
• To report the accident and have the deer removed, call PennDOT at (800) FIX-ROAD for crashes along state highways.
In other instances, such as a dead deer in someone’s yard, the local game commission office can be called. For the southwest Pennsylvania region, that number is (724) 238-9523 or (724) 238-9524.
• For health and safety reasons, stay away from a dead deer. Deer are often covered with ticks, which can carry Lyme disease. In addition, people should not touch tissue like brain or spinal cord matter. Though he said he didn’t know whether it was prevalent in Pennsylvania, Shanshala cautioned against doing so because of Chronic Wasting Disease.
In addition, he said, don’t approach an injured deer.
“They don’t know you’re trying to help,” he said. “You’ve got to remember, they’re wild animals.”