Motor vehicle accidents involving deer occur year-round on Fort Leonard Wood, but incidents typically increase in the fall. Now is the time drivers should be most vigilant in looking for deer, officials said.
“In 2019, Fort Leonard Wood had a total of 450 motor-vehicle accidents, of which 57 involved deer or other wildlife,” said James Stewart, Fort Leonard Wood police chief. “The majority of our deer strikes occur from September through December.”
Don Busbice, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood Safety Office director, said there are steps drivers can take to avoid hitting deer.
“Always be cautious and alert,” he said. “Be alert to roadside conditions and slow down if deer are spotted. Always buckle up and put your phone down. Distracted driving — particularly when wildlife is on the move — can be deadly.”
Decreasing daylight can also contribute to accidents, Busbice said, since deer are more active at dawn and dusk, and more drivers, especially commuters, are on the road at those times during the fall months.
“Use high beams, when possible, and keep an eye on the ditches on both sides of the road,” he said.
One thing drivers should definitely avoid, Busbice said, is swerving.
“Animals may appear suddenly, and swerving to avoid them can cause drivers to lose control of their vehicles, resulting in serious injury or death,” he said. “If a collision is unavoidable, apply the brakes firmly and remain in your lane. Swerving can often cause a more serious crash.”
Stewart recommended Fort Leonard Wood drivers take additional precautions in areas with a history of deer strikes.
“We encourage motorists to increase the distance between vehicles in our high-accident areas, such as FLW 1, Indiana Avenue adjacent to the horse stables, Polla Road and especially on Missouri Avenue between 1st Street and Pulaski Avenue,” he said. “With the amount of traffic on Missouri Avenue, we normally have multiple vehicles involved during a deer strike, and the number-one cause for multiple-vehicle accidents is following too closely.”
While the early fall months see an increase in activity among deer, those numbers typically peak in late October and early November.
“These months encompass deer breeding season when bucks in rut are more active and likely to travel long distances in search of does,” Busbice said. “The main reason the rate of deer-vehicle collisions goes up in the fall is deer behavior. You can’t do anything about that, but you can drive defensively, especially at dawn and dusk. Watch for deer just off the road and slow down when you spot one. Don’t let your guard down if a deer crosses the road ahead of you — another could be following.”
Stewart said in addition to mating season, the search for food plays a part in deer wandering into more populated areas.
“During November, deer activity increases not only due to breeding season, but deer are also looking for food sources when acorns have been depleted,” he said. “This brings them closer to roadways, which in turn leads to an increase in accidents.”
The most recent hunting data available from the Missouri Department of Conservation shows the overall deer population has stayed constant throughout the state. However, in the Ozark Region, which includes Pulaski County, the deer population has steadily grown over the past decade.
The record for deer strikes on post occurred in November 2017, Stewart said, after which Fort Leonard Wood enacted its annual cantonment hunt.
“In 2017, we had a total of 78 accidents involving deer, with 61 occurring between September and December — (including) 35 in November,” Stewart said. “(That) was the highest month for deer strikes that we have had, and December 2017 was the second-highest with 14. These accidents were primarily occurring adjacent to non-hunting areas which led to the development and opening of the cantonment hunting areas.”
Busbice offered the following additional tips for drivers to implement to avoid vehicle crashes involving deer or lessen the impact a crash can have:
— Always wear a seat belt.
— Remain awake, alert and sober while driving.
— Look ahead periodically to increase reaction times if an animal is spotted.
— Be aware that some animals move in groups, so where there is one, there are usually more in the area.
If a deer-vehicle collision has resulted in the death of the deer in the roadway, do not attempt to remove the animal in a high-traffic area. Instead, drivers should notify the Missouri Department of Transportation by calling 888.275.6636.
Crews will pick up dead deer that pose a safety hazard, meaning the carcass is in the driving or passing lane, or partially in either lane or on the shoulder.
For more information on driving safety, visit https://safety.army.mil/OFF-DUTY/PMV-4-Cars-Trucks.