As the hunting and deer mating seasons heat up in Northern Virginia, more of the four-legged herbivores are showing up alongside major roads — and sometimes, in the middle of them.
Lee Walker, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said deer are out hunting for food for the winter and potential mates. Bucks can become more aggressive as they seek mates during mating season, which runs from October to December.
These activities are forcing deer into harms way as they meander through developed areas.
“This is the time of year deer start moving,” Walker said. “They’ll start putting on weight to get them through the winter and the bucks are out looking. They’re very territorial.”
Matt Knox, deer project coordinator for Game and Inland Fisheries, says deer account for about 50,000 car accidents a year in Virginia. He said as traditional wooded areas become developed, deer end up in residential areas that usually also carry a high volume of vehicle traffic. To thwart that problem, Knox said, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties have a seven-month hunting season that began Sept. 1 and runs through March 30.
Of the estimated million white tail deer that live in the wild in Virginia, about 200,000 of them are killed annually, Walker said. Through Monday, there were only 337 deer reported killed by hunters this season. That number is expected to rise as the remaining Virginia jurisdictions start their hunting season Oct. 6, Walker said.
Deer hunting in Virginia brings in $250 million annually, Knox said.
Northern Virginia gets a jump on its hunting season because it's more developed with more urban and residential centers, which means deer are more likely to destroy landscaping or cause an accident, Knox said.
“There’s so many urban deer issues in Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William counties,” Knox said.
Fairfax County Police Department spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said this year, 59 non-reportable deer crashes — those in which damage is $1,499 or less — were reported through July; 31 reportable crashes involving animals (more than $1,500 in damages) were counted through September. Caldwell said police didn’t say if the reportable crashes involved deer.
Fairfax County police gave the following safety tips for avoiding collisions with deer:
- Always drive the posted speed limit.
- Always wear your seat belt when in a vehicle. Severe injuries and/or fatalities are more likely to occur as result of failure to use a seat belt.
- Use high beams when there is no oncoming traffic to improve your visibility. You will have better view of adjacent woodland edges and open fields.
- Be aware of posted “Deer Crossing” signs. Signs are placed in areas known for high deer traffic and/or deer-vehicle collisions.
- Watch for eye shine along roadsides. Immediately begin to slow vehicle if you spot a deer.
- Reduce speed and grasp steering wheel firmly with both hands. You never know when a deer will attempt to cross a road.
- If deer is frozen on the road, reduce speed and flash your headlights. Deer can become mesmerized or blinded by bright steady lights.
- Never swerve to avoid deer on the road. Swerving can cause loss of control of your vehicle and greatly increase chance of more serious damage or injury.
- Take foot off brake at time of impact. This action reduces the likelihood of deer crashing through a windshield or windows upon impact.
If you’re in a collision with a deer in Fairfax County, Caldwell said immediately contact police at 703-691-2131.
For more information on hunting season, visit the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website.