Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Greg Jordan

September 12, 2013

Autumn’s approach means close calls — and crashes — with wildlife

— — I always enjoy seeing wildlife, so spotting a deer with its fawn spots just starting to fade would normally be pleasant. Unfortunately, the sight isn’t so pleasant when you’re driving 65 mph on Interstate 77 and the deer is only 30 feet away from the highway.

The deer was just around the curve you take when you’re going north near that state rest stop close to the Camp Creek exit. I was keeping an eye out because I had a close call a few years earlier near that very spot. A doe absolutely oblivious to danger walked right into the path of five or six oncoming vehicles. Only lots of braking saved the animal, and even then it was grazed by an SUV.

I had deer on my mind thanks to a weekend story I did about the fact deer, bears and other wildlife are now working to pack on the calories before winter arrives. This quest to put on weight while nature’s grocery store is stocked up takes them to places they normally don’t visit. My mom has even seen a doe walking her fence line to munch on the undergrowth there. One day, the doe arrived with two fawns. I’ve seen small herds cut across golf courses. They’re eating while they can eat.

Unfortunately, seeing a deer along the road gives you a flash of panic when you’re driving. A deer grazing nearby can suddenly decide to run across the highway. For some reason I’ve never been able to grasp, they don’t seem too afraid of cars.

One winter evening I was driving back to Bluefield after covering the Princeton City Council. I was approaching the turnoff to the Mercer Mall when a deer slowly came across Route 460. My lights were on bright and I was approaching from a long way off, but that buck completely ignored me. I had to slow down, then stop when it kept coming. I leaned into my horn and flashed my lights. That finally got its attention.

Even after all that light and noise, the buck didn’t stop there. It turned around and headed back for the mountains.

Probably my worse deer-along-the-road moment came several years ago along Interstate 77 near Flat Top. I was heading south after a visit to my parents. Night was falling and the visibility was going with it, so I had my headlights on.

Suddenly, I spotted a buck silhouetted in the toll booth lights. It was standing only a couple of feet — and I do mean a couple of feet — from the edge of the road. Other cars were right next to me, so I couldn’t swerve away. I slowed down as much as I could and promised God I would mend my ways. If that buck stepped forward, it was going over my hood and through my windshield.

The buck stayed still and I sailed right past it. Maybe the animal had memories of a close call of its own.

Bears are as big a highway hazard as deer when they decide to roam and eat. Collisions between bears and vehicles are not as common as ones involving deer, but they happen. A couple of years ago, I went to a scene on Route 460 where a bear had been hit and killed.

It wasn’t a very big bear; it was about the size of a large dog. A ranger I spoke with later said it was likely a juvenile that had been chased off by its mother. When cubs reach a certain size, the mother runs them off so they can start lives on their own. Once the apron strings are cut, the cub wanders and seeks out territory. Inexperienced bears are more likely to pick through garbage and get along roadways if they are hungry. And smashing into a bear weighing hundreds of pounds would mess up its day and your day, too.

About the only way to avoid deer and bears during their roaming seasons is to stay alert. Deer are most active during the dawn and dusk hours, but they can appear anytime. Bears can make their appearances anytime, too. The one bear-versus-vehicle crash I mentioned previously happened during the afternoon. I know of one crash in the Bluewell area that happened at night; the bear was cutting across Route 52 when it was hit, but I think it survived.

Deer activity will increase when October and the mating season arrives; bucks will be even more reckless as they search for mates and more willing to dash across the highways. Extra vigilance will be a good idea. I know hunters hope to get a good buck during hunting season, but they don’t want to sacrifice their truck or car to get one. I doubt a load of venison would cover my car repairs if I slammed into a deer; my service center wants money.

Of course, what kind of deal could I get if I had a fresh buck in my trunk? Swap you a new windshield for this buck? If you want it, better butcher it fast! Swapping body work for a bear might be a little more difficult. Getting a buck into my truck would be a challenge, but a bear would be impossible unless it was a small one.

It’s better to be cautious and avoid a collision in the first place. I would rather avoid the pain and suffering a crash would inflict on both parties.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

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