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Vehicle and deer accidents are a concern for Wisconsin motorists. Peak deer season, also known as Peak Rut, runs from October until November according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). This is when crashes between vehicles and deer occur the most. One major factor for this is because it’s mating, or Rut, season. Migration is on the rise during this time as well. Lastly, hunters are active and the deer are on the move.

Despite what time of year it is, it is important that Wisconsin drivers are alert when on the road, especially as winter approaches. In a state where wildlife is so intertwined into our everyday lives, it’s valuable to know what to do when situations arise.

Deer leaping across a field. Photo by Dylan Kleitsch

Over the past 5 years, reported crash data shows over 19,000 deer are killed annually by vehicles on Wisconsin roadways, per the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). In 2020, there was an estimated population of 1.6 million deer in Wisconsin.

Whether you’re an avid outdoorsman or just trying to get from point A to point B, keep the following road tips in mind:

1. Slow Down

Taking precautions like driving more slowly during the evening and nighttime hours can reduce accidents that involve deer. Likewise, scanning roadsides for deer can prevent accidents from occurring. Driving the proper speed limit is always necessary, which is especially helpful when deer are likely to be running across roads and highways.

2. Never Swerve to Avoid a Collision

It might be someone’s natural instinct to swerve out of the way to avoid hitting a deer, but this is not what anyone should do. By swerving, drivers run the risk of hitting additional cars, or causing damage to their own vehicle if the car is moving at a fast enough rate of speed. This could result in further injury for both drivers and passengers. Brake firmly when you notice a deer in or near your path, but stay in your lane. 

3. Use High Beam Headlights

If you are driving and there is no oncoming traffic turn on your high beam headlights. The deer’s eyes will reflect the light from farther away. If there is a deer in the road and you are driving with your high beams on you are more likely to see the animal much sooner and avoid a collision altogether.

Be especially attentive at dusk (from sunset to midnight) and dawn (the hours shortly before and after sunrise).  These are the highest risk times for deer-vehicle collisions.

4. Look for Signs

In areas that are known for deer crossings, there is often signage posted. Deer tend to travel in groups so if you spot one, it’s important to look around for others. In rural areas where roads divide agricultural fields from forestland, deer are known to have a large population. Be cautious in these areas.

Additionally, many deer crashes do occur on busy highways near cities and within city limits, according to the Insurance Information Institute. There may not be signs posted in these areas, but it’s still necessary to proceed with caution when driving.

5. Know What to Do If a Collision Occurs

The Wisconsin Department of Transporation suggests:

  • Get your vehicle safely off the road, if possible, and call law enforcement.
  • Be prepared to describe your location to assist law enforcement.
  • Stay buckled-up inside your vehicle. Walking along the highway is very dangerous as you could be struck by another vehicle.
  • Do not attempt to move an injured deer.

If there is damage to your car due to the wildlife, call your insurance company. In addition, report a car killed deer here. To report a car killed deer that needs to be removed from the roadway, call the Racine County Sheriff’s Department. They can be reached at (262) 636-3211.

Possession of Animal

Note, the DNR states that, “any person may claim a deer, bear or turkey that has been accidentally killed by a motor vehicle. The driver of a vehicle that collides with and kills a deer, bear or turkey has first priority to the carcass. If the driver does not want the carcass, any other person who arrives at the scene may request possession of the carcass.”

Those who want to take possession and register a vehicle killed deer will need to provide their DNR customer ID number to complete the notification and registration process.

DNR customer ID numbers are assigned to people who have purchased hunting and fishing licenses, registered a boat, ATV, UTV, off-highway motorcycle and snowmobile or enrolled in a safety education course. You can find your DNR customer ID number or create a DNR customer ID number online.

Additional Resources

Information about wildlife in Wisconsin can be found on the DNR’s website. Also, the WisDOT’s website can provide more insight on driving during deer season.

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