By ANDY ZIEMINSKI, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - Deer smell love in the autumn air, and that spells danger for Maryland drivers.
Mating season for the state's 234,000 deer began in mid-October and peaks in November. During that time, lusty bucks are willing to jump across roadways with reckless abandon as they travel on average four or five miles hunting for does, said state wildlife officials.
"Bucks are chasing the does, so they're a lot more aggressive, which means more movement on their part and more opportunities to come into contact with vehicles, unfortunately," said Bob Beyer, associate director of the Heritage and Wildlife Service in the state Department of Natural Resources.
The risk of car-on-deer collisions is highest in suburban and urban areas because deer are forced to live in close proximity to humans and their automobiles, Beyer said.
"I know we hear a lot about increased collisions this time of year," said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Ragina Averella.
Deer populations are healthy in places like Montgomery County where food is abundant and hunting is limited, Beyer said.
But "they don't have vast expanses of open areas because the counties are broken up by roads and housing developments," he said. They are more likely to cross roads "oblivious to what they should be concerned about."
J.R. Correa, owner of J.R.'s Auto Body in Rockville, said his shop sees about 50 deer-damaged vehicles each November.
"It's definitely a lot more" than other times of year, Correa said.
Maryland drivers reported colliding with deer 1,479 times in 2006, resulting in three human deaths and 266 injuries, according to the Deer Vehicle Crash Information Clearinghouse, which collects data from state agencies around the country. Deer collisions accounted for 1.5 percent of the total accidents in Maryland last year.
But the Maryland State Highway Administration removed 6,764 deer carcasses from state roads in 2006, which is a more accurate approximation of how many deer got hit by cars, said Keith Knapp, a Texas A&M University researcher who maintains the clearinghouse.
Beyer urged motorists to drive slowly and stay alert, especially if they spot a deer.
"If you see one, expect more, especially during the mating season," Beyer said. "A buck will be chasing a doe and the doe will be frantic, because maybe it's not ready to mate, and it runs across the road, and the buck is running right behind it."
While deer are normally most active at sunrise and sunset, Beyer said their mid-day activity picks up during mating season, so drivers should remain vigilant at all hours.
Officials advise drivers not to swerve if crashing into a deer becomes unavoidable. Swerving can cause drivers to lose control of their vehicle and hit other cars, or slam into a tree or telephone pole.