TUPELO, Mississippi — Mississippians aren't the only ones bustling about this time of year.
It's a common sight to see herds of deer standing alongside — and even crossing — busy highways and roads. During December and January, when temperatures drop and the breeding season ensues, deer become more mobile, increasing their visibility as well as producing a higher number of vehicle collisions.
"We have deer crashes in the middle of the day, we have deer crashes at night," said Mississippi Highway Patrol Trooper Ray Hall. "Predominantly during their feeding periods, which would be early morning and late evenings, we have more crashes, but we do have them all times of the day."
Mississippi's deer population is estimated to be 1.75 million, according to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Lann Wilf, the department's north region biologist, said the deer and vehicle collisions this time of year stem from a combination of limited food sources as well as the breeding period known as the rut.
"Deer throw caution to the wind, because they have the rut on their mind," Wilf said. "They're not thinking about avoiding human interaction."
The odds of drivers hitting a deer in Mississippi in the coming year are one out of 84, twice the national average of one in 169, according to recent claims data from State Farm Insurance. This statistic keeps Mississippi in the top 10 list of states for the likelihood of a deer-vehicle collision.
Anthony Knight, body shop manager of Tom's Automotive Service in Tupelo, said his shop sees more deer-related collisions in December than any other time of the year. Recently, the body shop has been repairing around four deer-damaged vehicles a week.
"They just come out of nowhere," Knight said. "In most of the ones I see, people didn't see (the deer) until they hit them pretty much."
Knight said the most commonly damaged areas include the front bumper and the sides of vehicles. The cost of repairs typically ranges from $2,000 to $4,000.
"I've seen some bloody cars from deer going through the windshield busting people up," Knight said. "It can be dangerous. It really can."
Due to the unpredictable nature of the animals, the Highway Patrol advises drivers to slow down and use caution if they spot a deer. Attempting to avoid the animal by swerving at a high speed could also result in a wreck.
"Just be extra cautious, especially if you get on roads that are remote," Hall said. "Those are where your deer are going to be moving. With less traffic, your chances at hitting a deer are going to be greater."
Drivers should keep in mind that deer generally travel in herds of three to eight. Seeing one could mean others are nearby. If driving at night, use high-beam headlights as much as possible to illuminate the areas from which deer will enter roadways.
"Going forward into the winter, I feel that deer numbers and deer activity and visibility is going to continue to increase," Wilf said. "Drivers need to be aware, and be concerned."
Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com