If you are driving and notice a greater presence of deer in the line of trees bordering the road, if you are hiking and the bucks seem bolder and less shy, there is a reason for this. It is called the rut; but what is it?
Essentially, the rut is mating season for deer, and it runs from late October to the middle of December. During this time testosterone levels in bucks rise, their activity increases and these normally shy, elusive deer become more emboldened and reckless as they search for a mate.
Don’t be fooled by the warm weather, the rut is not signaled by cooler temperatures but by photoperiod or more simply put, daylight length. Deer are “short day” breeders, and the diminishing sunlight signals the deer that it is breeding season.
While hiking, one may notice two bucks participating in an early sign of the rut: sparring. Deer will push, shove and lock antlers with each other. This looks like playing at first, but as testosterone levels begin to increase it becomes much more serious.
One may also notice bucks rubbing their antlers on trees. The purpose for this is two-fold; first they use the branches of the tree to help rub off the velvet from their antlers, but they are also scent marking.
It is during the rut that motor vehicle drivers need to be particularly wary. Deer are crepuscular, meaning they are most active around dawn and sunset. The end of daylight savings time means that many drivers will be commuting home from work at the peak time when deer are most active.
NJDEP and NJDOT have offered these helpful hints on how to avoid collisions with deer:
“Slow down if you see a deer and then watch for sudden movement. If the deer is in the road and doesn’t move, wait for the deer to cross and the road is clear. Do not try to drive around the deer. Watch for “Deer Crossing” signs.
Drive slower when traveling through areas known to have a high concentration of deer so there is enough time to stop, if necessary. Use high beams during dark periods if there is no oncoming traffic or vehicles ahead. High beams will be reflected by the eyes of deer on or near roads. If you see one deer, assume that others may be in the area.
Don’t tailgate. The driver ahead might have to stop suddenly to avoid colliding with a deer.
Always wear a seatbelt, as required by law. Drive at a safe and sensible speed, following the speed limit, factoring for weather, available lighting, traffic, curves, and other road conditions.
Do not swerve to avoid impact if a collision appears inevitable; a deer may counter-maneuver suddenly. Brake appropriately and stay in your lane. Collisions are more likely to become fatal when a driver swerves to avoid a deer and instead collides with oncoming traffic or a fixed structure along the road.
Report any deer-vehicle collision to a local law enforcement agency immediately.
Obey the state’s hands-free device law or refrain from using cellular devices while driving.”
Following these simple rules can prevent needless accidents and help us all appreciate deer like they are meant to be…at a distance.