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Dinging a deer: Motorists are advised to watch for deer crossing, especially during dawn and dusk

Press Photo by Royal McGregor A 2012 Ford Focus sits Wednesday at Legend's Auto Body after being struck by a deer. The assessment for the damage to the car is more than $11,500. North Dakota motorists are advised to watch for deer crossing roads during dawn and dusk.

The deer hunting season might be over, but the time to meet deer on the road is always there.

There are peak times to see deer crossing the roads, such as the spring months, when deer are on the move after winter and the fall months, when deer are in the rutting season, and then the daily times are dawn and dusk.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department warns people of deer crossing the highways during the early morning and late evenings. Brett Wiedmann, the NDGF big game biologist in Dickinson, described what he's seen on the roadway with motorists.

"Something I've witnessed on several occasions is that when people approach deer that are in the ditch, they sometimes assume those deer aren't going to move so they just maintain their high rate of speed," he said. "As that vehicle approaches, deer are sometimes spooked and then they try to cross the highway as you approach them. Whenever I see deer in the ditch, especially in the evenings, I slow down."

The early part of this winter season has been different than in years past because of the lack of snow.

Can the snow play a factor in the amount of deer seen on the roads?

"I think last year there's probably as many (crashes) as there was this year," said Jerry Gayda, the owner of Legend's Auto Body in Dickinson. "Last year, they (deer) might have been on the road more, because there was more snow."

Gayda said his shop had more than 50 cars come in as a result of deer crashes in the last three months. The other three businesses contacted had one or two accidents come in during the past couple months.

The one thing that's lacking this winter is snow. With no snow, the deer population is moving from one place to another easier than in the past.

"With no snow on the ground, it's pretty much free range and they can show up anywhere they want," said Lt. Jody Skogen of the North Dakota Highway Patrol. "But it also allows them to not use our transportation system in order to move to get to their feeding locations. When the snow is deep, they tend to find the easiest way to get from point A to point B to where they don't have to burn a ton of calories to get there. A lot of times our roadways are utilized just as a natural way of deer getting around."

However, deer spending less time traveling from place to place can make it easier for them to jump out into the road. Dickinson Highway Patrol Sgt. Dan Haugen said he gets a call about hitting a deer every day or two.

"I think it's harder to see the deer because it is mild out," Haugen said. "There's no snow to make the deer stand out. I think it's harder to see a deer now and avoid it than it is in a typical winter."

What happens if a motorist strikes a deer on a highway or interstate?

Wiedmann said the best option is to drag the deer to the side of the road so oncoming motorist don't hit the deer as well.

"If you do strike a deer, you can contact a game warden or highway patrol to get a permit to keep that animal," he said. "Say you hit a buck, you can't cut off the head. That's technically illegal and you have to call law enforcement to keep that animal."