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Kharmin Goes Deer Hunting

[Homer drives into a preserved deer statue]
Homer: D’oh!
Lisa: A deer!
Marge: A _female_ deer…
–from The Simpsons, episode #517

To me, this is probably one of the top classic lines from The Simpsons. Rarely, now, do I really laugh at their antics, having grown older and have already been exposed to much of what this dysfunctional family has done. Some scenes still get a chuckle, or a snort, but not often do I get a good laugh. This was a clever scene with just the right dialogue. But as in most things, it’s only funny when it happens to someone else.

This morning, I had a close encounter of the thunk kind (not to be confused with Close Encounters of the Third Kind) with a deer. Still dark, with dawn easing its way into the eastern sky, traveling in rush-hour traffic, a small deer leapt to meet its fate with the front of my truck. At close to 70 m.p.h., the odocoileus virginianus didn’t have much of a chance. Oh, it turned away at the last moment, but physics being what they are, it just wasn’t fast enough.

At least I was driving my truck, and not my wife’s Ford Escort.

The damage will certainly be enough for a claim with my insurance company, but on initial inspection (in the pre-dawn light at the side of the road) it didn’t look too bad. Had the deer been larger, it might have impacted the bumper higher which would have caused the airbags to deploy– which in that rush-hour traffic would have made for an interesting (and educational) ride. Instincts being what they are, I admit that I did hit the brakes, but probably not as hard as I could have. We’re told not to hit the brakes because that will cause the front of the vehicle to dip down, thus increasing the potential for more serious damage: there have been instances of deer rolling up car hoods and smashing into or even through windshields! Had I really hit the brakes, I doubt it would have come up to my windshield, but by not dipping the front too much lower, I probably prevented the bulk of the impact from deploying the airbags.

So, now I get to deal with the insurance company, and coordinate a time and place to have the truck repaired, and work out my commute with my wife since we’ll be short a vehicle for a day or two. Sure, it’s a hassle, but no one got hurt (other than the deer, of course), and the damage can be fixed. That’s the end of the story, but not the end of this musing…

The deer population in the eastern United States is getting out of control (see article here). Nature activists protest controlled hunts which would cull the herd of deer down to a more manageable size. The problem isn’t just on the highways, either. Deer overpopulation affects airports, farmers and other species of animals. To be sure, there is some validity to the argument that the rapid increase of suburban sprawl increases the rate of encounters with humans and deer, but again with controlled hunts this can be managed.

I have nothing against deer. Heck, we’ve had a family of seven deer running through our rural property ever since we moved to the country, and I expect to see them there. The one that I struck was closer to the metro area where I work. But one thing we’ve noticed in the 3½ years we’ve lived in our home: there seems to be no set life-cycle for the deer in our area. It used to be that you could expect to see more at one time of year, and in the spring, you’d see the babies. Now, we see the small deer all year around. This tells me that the population of deer isn’t just growing in predictable phases. We have new deer entering the environment throughout the year. With hunting only allowed during certain weeks, and with hunters limited to the number they can kill, the deer are quickly outpacing the ability for their natural surroundings to sustain them. Deer are only so smart… and they will go to wherever they can find food. With more deer than the land can support, they range farther out from the dense forests, and into our neighborhoods.

Too many traffic deaths and injuries are caused by this menace. Too much money is spent on insurance claims (vehicular as well as health). Too many farmers are losing crops to deer, which causes the price of food to rise. Let’s just face it: there are too many deer. The time has come to ease the restriction on hunting deer, and to open up more controlled hunts to ease the burden that an overpopulation of deer is causing.

It’s too late for me and my truck, but without some immediate measures, I’m sure it will happen again, and I would much rather someone hunt them with a bow or gun than me with my truck.

UPDATE: A University of Missouri study is mounting cameras on the heads of deer to study deer-car collisions. We’re actually paying for this?

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