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Season of deer-car crashes is here

They appear as cute and harmless forest creatures, which, in fact, they are, but Florida deer are venturing out of the forests these days and on to the roadways, where they collide with vehicles.

"It's bad news for both, because usually the deer is killed, and the car gets quite a bit of damage" said Duane Carter, who repairs damaged vehicles at Tony's Collision Center in Inverness.

Though no one can say exactly why, the deer that normally stay deep inside the Withlacoochee State Forest can often be seen grazing along the roadsides. They mostly come starting at dusk and stay into the night.

In Citrus County, the Withlacoochee Forest is criss-crossed by major roads, such as State Road 44, U.S. 41 and Stage Coach Trail. With thousands of cars whizzing by the deer, which don't understand the dangers, collisions are frequent.

"We have one about every week during this time of year," said Samantha Dunn, secretary at Collision Tech of Citrus County, another Inverness auto repair shop.

She has her own theory on why the deer are on the move.

"I think it's because of hunting season. They're being chased all over the place, and they're basically on the run," she said.

There are also other reasons, said Lt. Joy Hill of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Hill said that hunting season does probably play a role in the migration of the deer population from deep within the woods to the outer edges close to the roads.

"But also, I think their food supply is not so readily available this time of year, and they have to graze a little further to find food.

"Also, the deer are in rut (mating season) this time of the year, and they tend to wander around looking for mates," she said.

Whatever the reason, it is a good idea for drivers to be on the alert for deer running on the roadways at this time of the year.

Julia Hamilton of Inverness was driving along Stage Coach Trail shortly after dark Thursday when her vehicle collided with a leaping deer.

"I've lived here since 1990, and I know about deer, but this one just jumped right into the road, and there was nothing I could do," she said. "It just came out of nowhere."

She hit the deer while it was "in mid leap," and the impact caused considerable damage to her minivan's front end. The stricken deer hobbled off into the woods and could not be found.

Technicians and auto repair shops say a collision with a deer often results in heavy front end damage to vehicles. Most repair bills are in the $1,000 to $2,500 range.

"You consider the impact of a 120-pound deer crashing into a car going 65 miles an hour," Carter said. "Not only do the lights and grills get dented, but I've also seen radiators busted wide open. Not the lines, but the actual radiators."

Lt. Hill said that if a driver sees a deer or two on the side of the road, it's a warning sign of a possible collision situation.

"And if you see one darting across the road, be prepared to stop quickly, because it usually means that there's another one following behind," she said.