An early summer trip across the eastern third of the United States offers a tour of some beautiful countryside, a look at a broad cross-section of farming operations and a painful jolt as to the real impact of ridiculously high gas prices.
It also demonstrated in very graphic fashion how an exploding deer population quickly translates into a huge deer problem. We see this play out on our country roads, our Ohio highways and along the Turnpike and interstate highway system.
On this particular venture, we were carried through southeastern Ohio, across the panhandle of West Virginia, and then we cut a swath through the extreme southwest corner of Pennsylvania. Next we were going back through the northern tier of the Mountaineer state, before tracing a circuitous line the length of what would be the barrel if the state of Maryland was a long rifle.
This is all clearly deer country, but the stunning unofficial count on that trip was 57 dead white-tailed deer on or along the roadway. There were likely twice that number or more that we did not see due to darkness, or the fact they were along the opposite lane of the highway, which was often obscured by a concrete barrier, or a wide path of trees and mounds.
It is easy to see why there were so many deer carcasses along the road. We saw prolific concentrations of deer at dusk, with many of them grazing in deep grass very close to the highway, seemingly oblivious to the buzz of traffic clipping by at 70 miles per hour. There were very few loners at this time of year, when we tend to see whitetail regularly "herd up."
Many of the dead deer were on the shoulder of the highway, likely smacked by a car or truck the instant they stepped into harm's way. A few were in the middle of the two or three eastbound or westbound lanes, and their remains were scattered by what had to be a multitude of impacts.
Most of the dead deer we saw appeared to be fresh roadkill, with many of them showing no external signs of receiving a mortal blow. A few had deteriorated in the heat, and it was apparent the agents of decay had not wasted a minute while going to work on the flesh.
Opportunistic feeders were working on a deer carcass here and there. It was a reminder that one of the rules of nature is nothing truly goes to waste. While the life of this great mammal was lost, many other lives were sustained due to its death. Insects, birds, raptors and other small mammals all took advantage of the free roadside meal.
There was one early morning deer-car crash we came upon just moments after impact had occurred. A wounded PT Cruiser sat on the edge of the roadway, its front buckled in and steam rolling from under its crumpled hood. The bewildered driver was standing on the shoulder, assessing the damage and shaking his head in disbelief.
At one point, we witnessed a few deer crossing the road in textbook whitetail fashion. First, one doe bounded out of the woods and in a steady gallop quickly crossed the pavement, bounced effortlessly over a fence, and found refuge in the wheat field on the other side.
A few moments later a second deer exited the woods and paced through the ditch and up onto the shoulder of the roadway. After a moment or two, this deer took two wobbly, measured steps and then stopped right in the traffic lane. It presented a wide view to oncoming traffic, but fortunately found its way to the safety of the wheat field without being hit.
Recent figures put the U.S. deer population at around 30 million, and climbing. Insurance industry estimates show about 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions each year, which result in more than 150 motorist deaths, and over $1.5 billion in damages to vehicles.
Deer are powerful and athletic, and impossible to keep off the roadways. The best approach to the explosion of deer-vehicle collisions is to manage and control the herd populations, and drive through deer country aware and alert.
Matt Markey is The A-T outdoors columnist.
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