Deer Sightings Show a Big Increase
By Tom Embrey
Diane Helms was sure the cold had killed the shrubbery and day lilies around her Eastwood home, but closer inspection revealed another culprit - deer.
"They had eaten all the new green off the shrubbery," Helms said. "They were eating it as fast as it was coming in."
Helms, who has lived in Eastwood for a quarter-century, said she has always had a lot of whitetail deer around her house. This year, however, she said she is hearing more and more stories from friends, family and acquaintances about their run-ins with deer.
"I've heard more stories this year of people saying they are seeing them (deer) in residential areas," she said. "That's surprising because you don't expect to see them in such populated areas."
Southern Pines resident Edna Earle Cole said she has definitely seen an increase in the number of deer in her neighborhood. Cole, who lives on Weymouth Road on the eastern edge of Southern Pines, said she saw more deer in one day recently than she saw all of last year.
"One night we saw two large bucks come into the yard," she said. "They left, and then all of sudden we looked outside and there were 10 other deer. We saw eight all last year."
Cole said she thoroughly enjoys having the animals come into her yard.
"We are thrilled to death," she said. "They are such sweet, gentle creatures. They are so pretty and graceful."
'Out of Nowhere'
But as beautiful and graceful as the animals can be, they can also be dangerous.
Just ask Binky Albright.
In the mid-morning of Feb. 1, Albright said she was the only driver on the road when a large deer bounded out from the woods and broadsided her Ford Edge crossover vehicle.
"I didn't know what hit me," she said. "It came out of nowhere and demolished my car."
Albright, a local Realtor, was on her way to Whispering Pines when the deer slammed into her car on Vass-Carthage Road about a half mile east of the intersection with Farm Life School Road.
The deer hit the vehicle on the driver's side door, rolled off the front of the vehicle and ran into the woods, she said. The impact damaged the door so badly that it couldn't be opened from the inside.
"It felt like the most horrendous crash," she said. "There was hair all over the place, and you could seek hoof marks on the door, and part of his tail was in the wheel."
Deer strikes are more common from October to December. Sightings and encounters with deer in Moore County have increased in recent years.
"Every day," said 1st Sgt. T.D. Simmons, of the State Highway Patrol in Aberdeen, when asked how often his troopers answer calls about motorists hitting deer.
Between October and January, the Highway Patrol recorded 448 accidents involving animals - most of them involving deer, Simmons said.
"There could be some dogs in there, but I'll tell you with all certainty that 98 percent of them, if not more, are deer (strikes)," he said.
Jon Shaw, a regional wildlife biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Commission, said the deer population has grown steadily over the past five years because the animals are more adaptable to their surroundings, especially in areas where hunting is limited.
"The biggest issue is there are too many deer in areas where hunting is prohibited," Shaw said.
He said the deer density in Moore County ranges between 30 and 40 per square acre.
Another factor, according to Simmons, is deer are increasingly more comfortable in more urban settings.
"It's not like it used to be when they would hear you and run away in the other direction," Simmons said. "They are not afraid of traffic these days."
Helms said she thinks the deer living near her home recognize her and are more comfortable when she is around.
"They seem to react differently to my car than they do to other cars that come to my house," she said. "They don't run when I come home, they just amble a little farther away."
But not always.
Earlier this year, while just a few miles from home, Helms hit a deer.
"I've lived out here for years, and this is the first time that has ever happened to me," she said.
According to the statistics, she isn't alone.
State Farm Insurance estimates that in the United States there were 2.3 million collisions between deer and vehicles from July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2010. That is a 21 percent increase over five years ago.
North Carolina is a medium-risk state when it comes to the likelihood of a deer-vehicle collision.
Utilizing claims data in conjunction with state-licensed driver counts from the Federal Highway Administration, State Farm calculates that the chances of a North Carolina driver striking a deer within the next year is one in 147. West Virginia tops the list, with one driver in every 42 likely to hit a deer in the next year.
Deer-vehicle collisions in the United States cause about 200 fatalities each year.
According the Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies, there were no known fatalities from a motorist hitting a deer in Moore County in 2010.
The average property damage from deer-vehicle collisions nationwide is $3,103, according to State Farm.
'Hit a Deer'
A crash involving a deer can happen any time, but the majority of collisions happen between October and December, when deer activity increases due to mating and hunting seasons. Crashes are most common during the hours of 5 p.m. and 7 a.m., when deer movement increases and limited light makes it more difficult for motorists to see them on the roads.
Some tips for avoiding deer:
n Slow down in posted deer crossing areas and heavily wooded areas, especially during the late afternoon and early evening.
n Drive with high beams on when possible and watch out for eyes reflecting in the headlights.
n Deer travel in groups, so don't assume that the road is clear if one deer has already passed.
n Don't swerve to avoid contact with the deer. This could cause the vehicle to flip or veer into oncoming traffic, causing a more severe crash.
Unknowingly, that is exactly how Albright reacted when the deer hit her vehicle.
"It wasn't like I couldn't control (the vehicle) or lost steering," she said. "I stayed my course, and it (the deer) kept going. When I stopped the car, I immediately looked behind me and I saw its white tail. That's when I knew I hit a deer."
Contact Tom Embrey at email@example.com.
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