Auto Paint Technician Roy Fellows works on a fender repair job at Plantation Collision Center on Highway 82 in Lee County. Repair jobs like this are more common in the fall many when deer crashes occur.
ALBANY -- As a species, Georgia whitetail deer are distinguished by their peculiar habit of lingering unobserved near a roadway for minutes at a time, then rushing suddenly to slam into or in front of a passing vehicle. At least that's what many people suspect.
Whimsical explanations aside, vehicle and deer come together in unfortunate ways some 1.6 million times a year nationally, according to Allstate Insurance Company.
The collisions occur all year long but are at their worst during rut, or the period of time when bucks take particular interest in does.
"It's like they all get together and take 'stupid pills,'" said Scott Bivens, owner of Plantation Collision Center.
According to biologists, rut can be affected by a variety of factors, including moon phase and weather. In south Georgia, it typically begins in late October or early November and continues for one or two months.
Bivens does a thriving "deer business" all year long, he says, with a typical impact of $2,000 to $3,000 to the human victim. He offers some advise to drivers, especially during rut:
"Don't swerve," Bivens says. "It's the worst thing you could do. You could run off the road, hit a mailbox or an oncoming car. And stay off the cellphone."
Allstate Insurance Company officials warn that deer often move in groups. If you see one, there are likely more in the vicinity. Use your headlights on high beam when there's no oncoming traffic. The high beams better illuminate the eyes of deer on or near the roadway. Allstate warns also that deer are more active from sunset to midnight and shortly after sunrise.
Drivers should be sure they have the right insurance, Bivens said. His knowledge of the subject comes in part from his own experience.
"When I hit a deer a while back I thought I had told (the insurance company) to add comprehensive coverage, but I didn't have it," Bivens said. "It all came out of my pocket. I'm lucky I'm in the repair business."
Bivens believes the deer population is too high in southwest Georgia and that the hunting season should be extended. This year, for the first time ever, south Georgia hunters are allowed hunt with bait. Bivens believes that's a step in the right direction.
Charlie Killmaster, state deer biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, disagrees with the decision to allow baited hunting, saying the move was "politically" driven. He states further that the deer population in Georgia is stable at about 900,000, a desirable figure.
Killmaster says the frequency of deer collisions are determined by a relationship between the number of cars in an area and how thoroughly the area is hunted. Urban areas are hunted only at the fringe and are home to a lot of cars.
Game management is a relatively new endeavor for Georgia and the nation, according to Killmaster, with game wardens serving only since 1911. At that time there were barely any deer in Georgia.
"When we had deer in the woods, you go could go to a butcher shop and buy them dressed out," Killmaster said. "Back then you could hunt or fish and make a legal living from it. You can't do that anymore."
Killmaster said the first restocking took place in north Georgia in the 1920's by an individual, Arthur Woody, who bought the deer with his own money. From 1937 through 1975, The Wildlife Restoration Act allowed federal funding for restocking deer statewide. All the deer now in Georgia originated from just 4,016 deer introduced into just a few areas those years ago, Killmaster said.