The deer lay on its side in the breakdown lane of the Dulles Toll Road. It probably had been hit a few hours earlier and wasn't on Craig Watkins' to-do list.
He and Darren Wright pulled over in their yellow pickup and switched on the rooftop flashers. Watkins gripped the animal's short antlers, and Wright took the rear legs. They hefted the carcass into the open bed, atop a half-dozen others.
Their employer, Roadside Inc., has a contract to remove dead animals from state roads in Fairfax and Prince William counties. In November, their busiest month, they often pick up two dozen deer a day. On some roads, Watkins said, "it looks like a murder scene."
"I feel so sad sometimes that so many are being hit. It's a messed-up situation," he said. "There's a lot of deer. I don't know where they come from."
This is peak season for deer crashes because it is the animals' mating time, when they are distracted and on the move. The end of daylight saving time makes things worse because more commuters are on the roads after dark, when animals can be active but difficult to see.
One in every six injuries to people in collisions caused by animals occurs in November, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of crashes escalated in the 1990s as the deer population soared and despite widespread prevention campaigns, at best have only leveled off.
Nearly 6,000 dead deer were picked up last year on Maryland and Virginia state roads near Washington, and some officials think the carnage could be double that. In the District's Rock Creek Park, 39 deer killed on roads were found last year.
Although dusk and dawn are the riskiest times, accidents can happen at any hour. "When the bucks are chasing the does, they are running across the road in the middle of the daytime," said Col. Frank Corn, a deer expert for Montgomery County police.
A decade ago, Kraig Troxell hit a deer in West Virginia and said he was amazed at how "the deer came out of nowhere." Troxell, now a spokesman for Loudoun County sheriff's office, still remembers every detail.
"It was 3 o'clock in the morning, and it was a six-point buck," said Troxell, who was not injured. "The roadway I was driving on -- Route 68 -- goes up and down. . . . When I saw him, it was too late. I hit him head-on."
Human fatalities are relatively rare, but in the CDC study, it was estimated that nearly 27,000 people are treated each year for injuries resulting from crashes involving animals, mainly deer. In half of the crashes, the vehicle and animal collide. In the other half, the driver swerves and hits something else or rolls over.
The average car insurance claim is $2,000, adding up to $1 billion a year, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Prevention measures have had only limited success. Deer hunts have reduced the population in some parks but are unthinkable in suburban backyards. Roadside reflectors, intended to deter deer by lighting up when vehicles approach, have not proved effective. Nor have deer whistles.
The CDC report and wildlife advocates endorse better fencing and wildlife tunnels under roads to provide detours for animals. Local wildlife underpasses include one at Fort Belvoir beneath the Fairfax County Parkway, another on Route 355 at Great Seneca Park in Montgomery County and several on Route 97 in Anne Arundel County. But they are costly: The Fairfax underpass cost $1 million to build a decade ago.
The collision problem is so vexing that the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has convened a task force to recommend prevention measures to government officials and sponsor a driver education campaign.
Experts said drivers can reduce their risk: If there is one deer, others are probably nearby. If one is near the road, brake but do not swerve, which could cause a more severe crash. Most important, slow down, especially at dawn, dusk and the few hours after sunset.
"That's what it comes down to -- a willingness on the part of drivers to slow down, particularly on two-lane roads in relatively natural habitats," said Susan Hagood, wildlife issues specialist with the Humane Society of the United States. "That's where the highest roadkill rates occur and where the potential for injury to people is greatest because there is so little room to recover."
A deer killed on the road is a problem for some, but an opportunity for others. Some people listen to police scanners for news of fresh kills and make off with the animals for their own use. Watkins has picked up carcasses with their heads cut off. Sometimes passersby ask him whether they can buy the antlers, which is not allowed.
Dead deer often are taken to rendering plants, but Maryland is experimenting with recycling and has composted more than a thousand at a Carroll County maintenance yard.
"In six months' time, the only thing left of the deer is bones, which they extract and throw away," said Chuck Gischlar, a State Highway Administration spokesman. "What's left is a rich addition to the soil. . . . It's good all around."