Watch out for deer on Sisters roads


Last updated 10/18/2022 at Noon

It’s the time of year when deer are on the move. Although known biologically as the rut, their unpredictable and potentially dangerous behavior during October and November has some local hunters labelling it derisively as “the time when deer get stupid.”

The odds of expensive and life-threatening car-deer interactions are way up, especially as urban boundaries expand and deer are displaced. Eric Smith of Caliber Collision in Redmond is seeing the collision numbers climb, aside from the rut and fawning (spring/summer) seasons, which will only bring more clients into autobody shops.

“Because of all the building that is being done, we are taking over their natural habitat, and it’s forcing them out of their normal realm and they’re walking on the streets more often than they should,” Smith said.

Nationally, 200 people are killed every year in car-deer accidents. Over 10,000 more are seriously injured. The Insurance Institute estimates that nationwide car-deer collisions cost motorists one billion dollars.

Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) data shows one in 165 Oregonians will collide with a deer in any given year. Or as a local chided, “100 percent of Sisters residents if they’ve lived here long enough.”

Deschutes and Klamath counties are two of the hot spots where the odds of hitting a deer are much greater.

“In late fall deer are moving from their summer range in the Cascades down to the Metolius, Billy Chinook, Tumalo, or Sisters winter range,” said Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) Biologist Andrew Walch.

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“What kicks off the rut is the changing amount of daylight. The female does go into estrus, and that also triggers the bucks to initiate their territorial behavior, their fighting, chasing does, their intensive breeding, marking (their territory); bucks’ necks swell up.

“Their (the bucks’) focus turns almost solely to that breeding behavior. Eating or avoiding humans or staying out of the road…all of those things get put on the back burner,” Walch said.

During rut, deer become even more active and unpredictable, especially during the dawn and dusk hours when many people are commuting to and from work or school. That problem is exacerbated when we make the change to standard time on November 6, and commuters drive in the darker hours of the day.

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If you’ve lived in Sisters Country for more than a few years, you’ve more than likely had a collision, or near collision, with a deer.

Not only is there the trauma of colliding with these beasts, which can occasionally weigh up to 200 pounds, but serious injury if they come through the windshield or the driver swerves to avoid a deer and ends up hitting a tree or another car.

The cost of hitting a deer can often be more expensive than it looks. What can look like minor damage to the car owner may be a “totaled” car to your insurance company. Especially if the car involved is a lower-value work car or belongs to a student. The biggest cost is often not the visual auto body damage, but the airbags. Beyond the cost of the airbags are seat belt tensioners, sensor modules, dashboards, and even steering wheels.

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Where a car may have only suffered $2,500 in auto body damage, the cost of a full set of airbags and all the associated goodies to make them work can exceed $6,000.

Smith estimates that in around 50 percent of car-deer accidents, airbags are deployed. Of those that deploy, he estimates the repair cost as “easily over $10,000.”

Those repair costs may steer the insurance company toward totaling your car.

There are things motorists can do to minimize the chance of hitting a deer and possibly injuring the driver and passengers.

  • Be aware. This should be a given in deer country. Drive with the mindset that there are deer all around, whether you can see them or not.
  • Use your headlights or daytime running lights (DRL) to catch the red reflection of the eyes of deer hiding just off the road. Use your horn with caution. Scaring the deer may get them moving but may move them into oncoming traffic. If you see a deer by the side of the road, there are probably more hiding nearby. Drive with that in mind.
  • Generally, do not take evasive action. Swerving to avoid a 150-pound deer could be far worse than hitting the deer if you end up in the ditch, hitting a tree, or worse, another car.

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What to do if you hit a deer? Sisters-based Deschutes County Sheriff, Lieutenant Chad Davis said, “Safety is the number-one concern. So if they can remove the vehicle from the travel lane and put on their hazard lights and wait in their vehicle, they can call dispatch and a deputy will be dispatched to assist them with all that is involved: calling a tow truck, taking a report, moving the deer from the roadway, or dispatching the deer if it is still alive. When we get there we will help them decipher what the reporting requirement should be.”

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Although a driver may have a pistol on hand to dispatch a deer, Davis strongly cautions against that.

“I would have them contact dispatch first and have an officer or deputy do that, just for safety purposes,” he said.

It’s a lot of work to focus (stay off electronic devices), be vigilant and aware of the unseen deer all around. The consequences of not doing so could mean expensive repairs, possible injury, and of course the trauma of hitting a living beast. Enjoying Sisters Country also comes with the responsibility of watching out for all creatures, great and small.

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