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Road kills bring different perspective

There is a special providence in the fall of a whitetail deer.

Replacing a sparrow with a deer in Shakespeare’s Hamlet quote applies in the providence of fate, luck, chance and perhaps divine intervention that brings Western New York deer to their deaths each hunting season and along roadways throughout the year.

All these thoughts of providence came to mind during a return trip from ice fishing at Honoeye Lake after dark on Jan. 12.

The fishing was so-so, the night was neither dark nor stormy, but the roads were partially ice covered and I kept speeds down around 40 mph on Route 20 headed west.

On a straight stretch of road through open farm fields, a doe and fawn crossed within feet of the front of my vehicle. I missed the doe but the fawn hit the right rear of my truck and was then struck by an oncoming pickup truck.

We both turned around, stopped for what appeared to be a dead carcass in the roadway and we both pulled it off the road, assuming the poor animal was dead. However, it began kicking and rolled into the ditch where it could not rise but kept lifting its head.

The other driver, a man from Avon, left and I did not want to be seen killing a deer on the roadside so I called 911 and a Livingston County Sheriff arrived to “dispatched” the animal, which turned out to be a button buck.

As an avid and active hunter, I have “harvested” dozens of deer, North American bear, moose and caribou and a variety of South African plains game. But sitting in a warm truck on the side of the road waiting for the officer to arrive was a harrowing, heart-rending experiential setting akin to what novelist Ernest Hemingway called a “moment of truth” and British poet William Wordsworth deemed “spots of time”, an insightful point in one’s think time to assess and evaluate things.

Simply said, as an animal lover at heart, I felt sorry to see that young deer dying but not dead in a ditch with near-zero winds sending puffs of snow across the road.

Drivers suffer damage costs and sometimes injuries and deaths caused by car-deer collisions. Insurance companies seek ways to reduce these kinds of encounters. Motorists driving especially at night watch for deer cross roadways. Neither hunters nor those opposed to hunting want to see deer carcasses lying on the side of the road.

But no matter how cautious one can be at the wheel, abundant deer populations around Western New York put all at risk of hitting these animals. At night, they can appear in the headlights from the side at distances too short for a complete stop. Some will stop in the middle of the road as a vehicle approaches, as did the doe accompanying the deer that hit my vehicle.

Neither the oncoming truck nor mine was damaged, the sheriff allowed me to take the carcass, which wife Jean and I had processed, vacuum-sealed in packages and in the freezer by 11 p.m. that evening – one positive outcome of this encounter.

As a driver for decades to and from residences in deer country, this is the first deer I have killed while driving. Years ago, a herd crossed in front of my vehicle in Alden one Sunday afternoon and I gently bumped one of the fawns while nearly stopped that day. The deer ran off uninjured.

As a hunter for decades I have passed shots on many bucks and doe deer, striving to harvest injured animals seen earlier in the season or year. Five of the dozen or so recent kills have been deer that had been wounded by bow or gun shots. But none of those kills were as vexing as the scene that unfolded during an “auto accident” involving a deer’s death.

This roadway encounter will neither curb the anticipation of upcoming deer seasons nor halt the tagging of a clean kill of either a trophy or meat harvest in future years. But the experience has brought a heightened awareness of how quickly deer can appear in the headlights, an increased sense of alertness while driving at night (three different groups of deer crossed the road that evening), and an all-embracing awe at the big-game bounty that exists in and around the Western New York area.

Hunt and drive safely out there…