OTTUMWA — The deer are distracted. Especially the male deer. So drivers need to pay close attention right now.
"During the rut, they are so preoccupied with the girls that they aren’t paying attention to anything else," said Annette Wittrock, the naturalist at Pioneer Ridge Nature Center.
In fact, the Iowa Department of Transportation even sent a message to their Twitter followers this week: "Deer are on the move for the annual rut. Watch for them along road, especially at dawn and dusk."
"Between a couple weeks ago and the next month, the movement intensifies," said Kurt Baker, an outdoorsman who is executive director of Pioneer Ridge. "Deer that are typically secretive the other 11 months of the year, all that goes out the window. Deer can be any place at any time."
Though any deer — young or old, male or female — can jump in front of a car any time, there has been an increase in wandering among those big bucks. Wittrock said the females are going about their day-to-day business.
The males are out looking for females and are doing less hiding. While the animals are typically most active at dawn and dusk, bucks are heading across yards, parking lots and streets any time they catch a whiff of a receptive female.
"They have one thing on their mind, and that’s it," said Baker. "They usually have their 'home ranges,' but breeding season may drive them out of their home range."
And that's not always a negative, he said. The bucks are less reclusive than usual, hunting is good and so is nature watching. The trick is to be safe, slow down during your commute and pay attention both day and night. Baker has hit deer twice.
"I survived a deer-versus-car accident, and I had no chance [to stop]; it was instant," he said. "All of a sudden, you’re pulling your face out of the airbag. It’s scary. If you catch yourself not paying attention to the speed limit, you won’t have a chance. It is critical at this time of year to slow down. "
The Iowa DOT warns drivers that they should not swerve to avoid deer. Their website has a booklet full of tips for parents to share with teen drivers. One piece of advice is another version of "slow down." Tell new drivers that "a serious crash can result if a driver swerves to miss a deer. Sometimes hitting the animal at a reduced speed is safer than swerving, losing control and hitting a tree."
— To follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter, see @CourierMark