By ALEXANDER SMITH
Capital News Service
LANSING — If you hit a deer hard enough, it has to land somewhere.
In Houghton Lake, vacationers had their trip cut short when a deer ran into the side of their truck, flipped into the air, punched a hole into the camper and thrashed around inside.
“The whole inside was trashed with blood and guts,” said Sgt. Eric Sumpter of the State Police post in Cadillac. “It was just terrible.”
That’s just one example of what can happen when a deer darts out into traffic.
Crashes between motor vehicles and deer rose by 3 percent last year. There were 47,002 deer-vehicle accidents in 2015, according to a recent report from the State Police.
Northern Lower Peninsula counties that saw an increase from 2014 to 2015 include Grand Traverse, Alcona, Missaukee, Ogemaw, Mason and Roscommon.
The increase is partially because there are more deer around for cars to hit, according to Chad Stewart, deer management specialist for the Department of Natural Resources.
“We’ve gotten a lot of reports from our field staff that indicate Michigan’s deer herd is doing quite well,” Stewart said. “We had a very mild winter across all of Michigan last year, so there wasn’t much loss over winter. The deer came out with really good health and fitness levels.”
Before that, Michigan had a string of harsh winters that reduced the deer population, especially in the Upper Peninsula. Now that the population is recovering from the harsh weather, it’s unsurprising that crashes involving deer have risen.
Most of the accidents happened in the lower portion of the state. Oakland County had 123 more deer-related crashes in 2015 for a total of 1,873, the highest in the state. Kent County had the second-largest total with 1,528 deer-related crashes in 2015, up 190 more from 2014.
“Statistically, Kent County’s always way up there, and it’s because of the combination between the number of deer to the number of people,” said Gail Hawley, a Kent County sheriff’s deputy. “Other counties, they may have more deer but not as many people.”
During the fall, accidents jump for almost all counties. Nearly 21,000 crashes — about 45 percent of the total –occurred between October and December.
“There’s more people in the woods, there’s more deer activity, so accidents are definitely increasing around this time,” Sumpter said. “This year, we had one where luckily the passenger was leaned back because the deer almost came through the windshield. It crumpled the door pillar, and if the person had been sitting upright, he would have been struck by the deer itself.”
The study showed most accidents occurred in the early morning and early evening. Sumpter said that during dusk or dawn, scanning the ditches and watching for deer’s eyes are the best ways to prevent being taken by surprise.
By ALEXANDER SMITH