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When Deer Meets Driver

Deer-vehicle collisions are highest during mating season, which extends from late October to early December. Officials are tracking accident-prone areas.
Deer-vehicle collisions are highest during mating season, which extends from late October to early December. Officials are tracking accident-prone areas. (By David Trozzo For The Washington Post)

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By Paul Duggan and Dan Keating
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 26, 2006

There's a new map of Maryland that looks like a bad case of the measles, with 5,769 red dots splotched across the landscape.

Each one marks a spot where crews scraped a deer carcass off the highway last year.

Virginia doesn't have a red-dot plotter yet, but more than 1,000 deer collide with cars each year in Fairfax County, and more than 600 are hit on Loudoun County roadways alone.

November is peak mating time for the region's overabundant deer. Bucks chasing does in heat and does playing hard to get don't look both ways before crossing the street. Which is a big reason so many of them end up as roadside carcasses in the fall.

As deer continue to thrive in Washington's suburbs, bedding down in small woods near subdivisions, feeding on shrubs and gardens, thousands of them turn up dead each year along thoroughfares, killed by vehicles. Most collisions occur during the rutting season, late October to early December. Experts hope to identify "hot spots" where they can try to ease the problem.

A familiar story this time of year -- man and nature colliding in suburban traffic.

The deer came bolting out of the darkness "like an apparition," Michelle Marcotte said.

"It was a big one, too, with antlers and everything."

She and her husband, Kenneth Vick, were in their Chrysler PT Cruiser on Nov. 12, headed home from an evening church service in Prince George's County. Vick, 64, was at the wheel when the buck slammed into his door.

"It's pitch-black out; it's raining," said Marcotte, 52. They were in the county's Glendale area, driving about 35 mph. For an instant, the deer "was right up against the window -- eye to eye with my husband." Then came "a giant, crashing, rumbling, awful sound," Marcotte said. "I was very frazzled. I mean, you hit something that large, you could get killed."

For motorists, the crashes can be expensive and dangerous -- even deadly.

"The driver's-side door is smashed and can't be opened," Marcotte said. "The fender has a big dent in it, with paint scratched off. The headlight is hanging out. And then the antlers smashed the hood. . . . I mean, that's an awful lot of damage for one deer."


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