Oh deer

Each year, around about now when the nights draw in, SNH puts out a little health and safety note about deer.  Not about looking after deer, although that’s nice, but rather about looking out for deer whilst driving. Iain Macdonald relates his experiences.

Red deer in heavy snowfall. ©Peter Cairns/2020VISION

Red deer in heavy snowfall. ©Peter Cairns/2020VISION

I am rather wary about deer on the road.   After all, I learnt to drive on roads full of them.  Quite a few years ago, I ran over a roe deer in Strath Oykel in Sutherland one night.  I remember three things about it: one was picking up the deer and feeling its broken bones grinding when I removed it from under the car, which wasn’t pleasant.  The second was that the bumper of my granny’s Renault 5 was cracked and I’d have to explain why, which also wasn’t pleasant. Thirdly, the deer seemed to appear from “nowhere.”  Nowhere being a clump of rushes beside a forestry plantation and right beside the road.

Red deer hinds in the mist at sunrise. ©Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

Red deer hinds in the mist at sunrise. ©Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

A few years later whilst driving on the same road, this time at about five in the morning, and closer to Rosehall, a sika deer hit me.  That sounds a little bit better, and I do stress the deer’s fault in all of this, but that didn’t really affect the outcome.  The deer ran head first right into the front passenger side door.  If I had been a second later, things would have been rather nastier.  Again, I recall three things in particular.  Firstly, looking in the rear view mirror at a large animal kicking its legs in the air and wondering what on earth to do next; secondly, the long dent on the door which I’d have to explain to my partner; and thirdly, that the deer had seemed to appear from nowhere once again.  Nowhere this time was a forestry plantation, right beside the road.  For those of you who really like deer, and I consider myself one of those, I’m happy to say that the deer was only concussed and ran away, much to my relief and probably the deer’s.

Face to face with a red deer. ©Pete Cairns/2020VISION

Face to face with a red deer. ©Pete Cairns/2020VISION

 

Those were the days before the SNH health and safety notes; when the first note came out, I joked that at least I had not hit a red deer.  I am, you see, well familiar with stories about what a red deer can do to a car. I was discussing that with a colleague a couple of days before, and out of sheer coincidence, I found out – firsthand.  This November, whilst driving in Ross-shire between Inverness and Ullapool at 7:15 in the morning, a red deer jumped right in front of the car.  It seemed to appear from nowhere, having jumped over a roadside barrier from a position downhill of the road where it couldn’t be seen.  There was no warning, nothing that I could have done to avoid a collision.  Rather scarily, I really don’t think I would have driven any differently or indeed driven any differently on those previous two instances when car and deer became intimately connected.  Expensive, but it would have been a lot worse if I had been going fast.  Perhaps I would not even be writing this – I don’t know. I do know, however, that I had some explaining to do as the car is not mine….

A wet day on ther roads. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The messages are simple, nowhere does really exist, and deer will appear from it. Be particularly alert if you’re driving near woods where deer can suddenly appear before you have time to brake. The faster the collision, the nastier it’s going to be.  With night falling earlier, the peak commuting time coincides with deer coming out to feed on grass verges near roadsides.  And finally, health and safety warnings are there for a reason…

 

Our tips for avoiding deer-vehicle collisions

  • Try not to suddenly swerve to avoid hitting a deer. A collision into oncoming traffic could be even worse.
  • Only brake sharply and stop if there is no danger of being hit by following or oncoming traffic. Try to come to a stop as far away from the animals as possible to allow them to leave the roadside without panic, and use your hazard warning lights.
  • Be aware that more deer may cross after the one or two you first see, as deer often travel in groups.
  • After dark, use full-beams when there is no oncoming traffic, as this will illuminate the eyes of deer on or near a roadway and give you more time to react. But dim your headlights when you see a deer or other animal on the road so you don’t startle it.
  • Report any deer-vehicle collisions to the police, who will contact the local person who can best help with an injured deer at the roadside. Do not approach an injured deer yourself it may be dangerous.
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