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Hunting-Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Vern Ross today urged motorists to stay alert and slow down when driving after dusk and before dawn if they don't want to risk colliding with a white-tailed deer.

"As part of the annual rites of spring, more and more deer are seen feeding on the grassy areas along the state's busy highways, and covering greater distances in search of food," Ross said. "This activity makes vehicle collisions with deer all but inevitable.

"For the sake of public safety, the Game Commission is asking motorists to watch for deer and to drive defensively after dark and before sunrise for the next several weeks. Your efforts can help to keep accidents to a minimum, which, in turn, will reduce or eliminate hardships to your family and other Pennsylvanians."

Ross noted that being more knowledgeable about deer can help Pennsylvanians steer clear of a deer accident. For instance, in spring, young deer - last year's fawns - are on the move as does chase them away to prepare for the next fawn cycle. Young bucks typically disperse to set up their own home range. Yearling does usually travel no farther than necessary and will often later reunite with the doe after her new fawns begin traveling with her.

"Unfortunately, these young deer make tragic mistakes when crossing roads in spring and moving through areas unfamiliar to them," said Ross. "They're no longer following the leader, they're moving independently. And that increases the potential for an accident, especially in areas harboring large deer populations."

If a deer steps onto the road, Ross said, motorists should slow down and come to a controlled stop as soon as possible.

"Don't risk trying to drive around a deer," Ross said. "Since deer usually move in single file, more deer may be following, so you should stop, or at least slow down, to make sure all deer have passed.

"Also, deer sometimes abruptly reverse their direction right after crossing a road. This is a defensive mechanism that often kicks in when deer are startled, and they retrace their footsteps to other deer they're traveling with or return to an area they've already checked for danger."

Deer in northern counties spend a good deal of time in spring feeding in grassy areas alongside busy highways. Motorists should slow down immediately whenever they see grazing deer along roads. While deer dining next to busy highways and interstates are often not bothered by the traffic, deer along rural roads seem less tolerant and edgy.

"The only thing predictable about whitetails is that they're definitely unpredictable," Ross said. "The moment you think you have them figured out, they start showing you something new.

"However, we also know that deer are creatures of habit. If you see a deer-crossing sign posted along a road you're traveling, it's a good idea to slow down especially around dawn and dusk. These signs are placed in areas where deer have been crossing roads for years. Ignoring these signs is asking for trouble."

Drivers who hit a deer are not required to report the accident to the Game Commission. If the deer dies, only Pennsylvania residents may claim the carcass. To do so, they must call the Game Commission region office representing the county where the accident occurred and an agency dispatcher will collect the information needed to issue a free permit number. A driver must call within 24 hours of taking possession of the deer.

A passing Pennsylvania motorist also may claim the deer, if the person whose vehicle hit it doesn't want it. Again, the motorist must report taking possession of the deer within 24 hours to the Game Commission.

The permit number issued by the agency lets meat processors and law enforcement officials know that possession of the deer is legal, and not the result of poaching. Antlers from bucks killed in vehicle collisions must be turned over to the Game Commission.

If a deer is struck by a vehicle, but not killed, drivers are urged to stay their distance because some deer may recover and move on. However, if a deer does not move on, or poses a public safety risk, drivers are encouraged to report the incident to a Game Commission regional office or other local law enforcement agency. If the deer must be put down, the Game Commission will direct the proper person to do so.

Other tips for motorists:

- Don't count on deer whistles or deer fences to deter deer from crossing roads in front of you. Stay alert.

- Watch for the reflection of deer eyes and for deer silhouettes on the shoulders of roads. If anything looks slightly suspicious, slow down.

- Slow down in areas known to have a large deer population; where deer-crossing signs are posted; places where deer commonly cross roads or are struck by motorists; areas where roads divide agricultural fields from forests; and whenever in forested areas between dusk and dawn.

- Deer do unpredictable things. Sometimes they stop in the middle of the road when crossing. Sometimes they cross and quickly re-cross back from where they came. Sometimes they move toward an approaching vehicle. Assume nothing. Slow down, blow your horn to urge the deer to leave the road. Stop if a deer stays on the road; don't try to go around it.


Whether hiking in the woods, driving through the countryside or simply enjoying nature, outdoor enthusiasts encountering wildlife, especially young wildlife, are encouraged to leave the animals alone and not remove them from the wild.

"Being outdoors in the spring is an enjoyable way to spend time learning about nature," said Calvin DuBrock, Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Management director. "At this time of year, it is common to find young rabbits, birds, raccoons, fawn deer or other wildlife that may appear to be abandoned. Rest assured that in most cases, the young animal probably was not abandoned and the best thing to do is not disturb it."

DuBrock noted many adult animals tend to forage for food and bring it to their young. Also, wildlife often relies on a natural defensive tactic called the "hider strategy," where young animals will remain motionless and "hide" in surrounding cover while adults draw the attention of predators or other intruders away from their young.

"While it may appear as if the adults are abandoning their young, in reality, this is just the animal using its natural instincts to protect its young," DuBrock said. "Nature also protects young animals with camouflaging color and by giving them little scent to avoid being detected by predators.

"Wild animals are not meant to be pets, and we must all resist our urge to want to care for wildlife. Taking wildlife from its natural settings and into your home may transmit diseases, such as roundworm or rabies, to people or domestic animals. Wildlife also may carry parasites -- such as fleas, ticks or lice -- that you wouldn't want infesting you, your home or your pets."

Two recent examples of why handling wildlife is strongly discouraged occurred in Berks and Adams counties. In the first case, one of two raccoons that were taken into a Berks County sixth-grade class for "show-and-tell" later tested positive for rabies, resulting in some students being advised to undergo a rabies vaccination regime. The second case involved an Adams County girl who brought a bat to school in her pocket. The bat later tested positive for rabies, and several students were advised to begin the rabies vaccination regime.

Also, the state Department of Agriculture recently announced that the first portion of this year's oral rabies vaccination (ORV) baiting project ran in the last week of April, and covered parts of Cambria, Fayette, Indiana, Somerset and Westmoreland counties. A larger baiting effort is planned for late summer. Pennsylvania has participated in the oral rabies vaccination project for five years.

As part of the project, in which the Game Commission is a collaborating partner, fixed-wing aircraft drop bait into sparsely populated areas, while trained employees targeted densely populated areas and spread the bait by hand. Surveillance, trapping and testing of raccoons in the five-county area being included in the first round this year will be conducted before and after baiting is complete.

The vaccine contains only a small, non-infective portion of the rabies virus that cannot cause rabies. The vaccine is placed inside a fishmeal bait to lure the raccoons to the smell. Once the raccoon punctures the sealed plastic package, the vaccine is released into its mouth. Though the bait does not pose a health threat to humans or pets, the baits should not be handled by the public.

In addition, Mike Dubaich, Game Commission Bureau of Law Enforcement director, noted that it is illegal to take or possess wildlife from the wild. Under state law, the penalty for such a violation is a fine of up to $800 per animal.

"Under no circumstances will anyone who illegally takes wildlife into captivity be allowed to keep that animal," Dubaich said. "While residents love to view wildlife and are very compassionate, they must enjoy wildlife from a distance and allow nature to run its course."

Dubaich also pointed out that, under a working agreement with state health officials, any "high risk" rabies vector species confiscated must be put down and tested rather than relocated. Species identified in the agreement are: skunks, raccoons, foxes, bats, coyotes and groundhogs.

"Except for some species of bats, populations of all other rabies vector species are thriving," Dubaich said. "Therefore, to protect public health and safety, it only makes sense to put an animal down for testing, rather than risk relocating a potent

ially rabid animal." Dr. James Rankin, state Health Department epidemiologist, said it always is wise to avoid wild animals and even strange domestic pets because of the potential rabies risk.

"Animals infected with rabies may not show obvious symptoms, but still may be able to transmit the disease," Dr. Rankin said.

People can get rabies from the saliva of a rabid animal if they are bitten or scratched, or if the saliva gets into the person's eyes, mouth or a fresh wound. Contact with wildlife and any strange domestic animals should be avoided. The last human rabies fatality in Pennsylvania was a 12-year-old Lycoming County boy who died in 1984.

More information on rabies and other diseases and illnesses is available through the state Department of Health's website ( and type in "rabies" in the "Keyword" box at the top of the homepage.

Source: PA Game Commision


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