WILD GEORGIA: Drivers, beware: It’s deer mating season

October through November is peak “rut season” for Georgia’s white-tailed deer — perhaps the deadliest time of year for the animals.

Love-struck bucks now are chasing does all over the place in an attempt to mate with them. This, combined with deer hunting season, can drive the animals out of the woods and onto highways, posing serious hazards to motorists.

That was starkly apparent last week when I drove a 90-mile stretch of I-16 between Macon and the exit for Oak Park in Emanuel County. Along the 90 miles, which run mostly through a forested landscape, I counted 12 road-killed does — more than the number of dead opossums and raccoons, the creatures most often struck by cars on Georgia’s highways.

White-tailed deer are “short-day” breeders because mating occurs in the fall when day length is declining. (In October, daylight decreases faster than any other month, averaging three minutes less each day.) As the days grow shorter, the hormone melatonin is released from the pineal gland in the brain, kicking off a hormonal cascade that induces estrus, or heat, in does and rut in bucks.

With mating uppermost on their minds, the deer become highly restless and reckless, which means trouble for both motorists and deer.

According to a 2019-2020 State Farm report, Georgia ranks 18th highest among the states for car-animal collisions. Georgia’s drivers, says the report, have a 1 in 83 chance of striking a deer compared to a 1 in 116 average nationwide. (West Virginia ranks first with a 1 in 37 chance.) According to the Georgia Department of Transportation, there were 17,374 crashes involving animals in Georgia in 2019.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources says motorists should be extra watchful for deer on highways during rut season, which will continue through the rest of the year. The animals, the DNR notes, are most active at dawn and dusk, which means that they typically are seen along roadsides during the early morning and late evening — the same times most people are commuting to and from work.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The South Taurid meteor shower, visible all next week, reaches a peak of about 15 meteors per hour on Thursday night in the eastern sky. The moon will be new on Friday (Nov. 5). Venus is in the west just after sunset. Jupiter and Saturn are in the southwest at dark.