You’re driving home from work when you sense movement in the ditch next to the highway; you pump your brakes in time to avoid the two eyes now flashing in the darkness that have moved onto the roadway. You sigh in relief as the deer scampers off into the darkness.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation reports Minnesota averages about 35,000 deer-car collisions a year, and three to 11 fatalities.
So, what can you do to stay safe when Minnesota’s deer season gets underway Nov. 3? Read on to learn some of trends and statistics, as well as a few tips for making your drive through deer country as safe as possible.
Dear Trends and Statistics
• Dawn and dusk are the times you are most likely to encounter deer along the roadside.
• Deer-breeding season runs from October through early January, and during this time, they are highly active and on the move. This is when deer-vehicle collisions are at their peak.
• Although deer may wander into neighborhoods, they are more frequently found on the outskirts of town and in heavily wooded areas.
• As pack animals, deer almost never travel alone. If you see one deer, you can bet there are others nearby.
• If you are driving through an area known for high deer populations, slow down and observe the speed limit. The more conservative you are with your speed, the more time you will have to brake if an animal darts into your path.
• Always wear a seatbelt. The most severe injuries in deer-vehicle collisions usually result from failure to use a seatbelt.
• Watch for the shine of eyes alongside roads and immediately begin to slow down.
• Use your high beams whenever the road is free of oncoming traffic. This will increase your visibility and give you more time to react.
• Deer can become mesmerized by steady, bright lights, so if you see one frozen on the road, slow down and flash your lights. NHTSA and other experts recommend one long blast of the horn to scare them out of the road as well.
• Pay close attention to caution signs indicating deer or other large animals. These signs are specifically placed in high-traffic areas, where deer sightings are frequent.
• If you’re on a multi-lane road, drive in the center lane to give as much space to grazing deer as possible.
Encountering a Deer
• Never swerve to avoid a deer in the road. Swerving can confuse the deer on where to run. Swerving also can cause a head-on collision with oncoming vehicles, take you off the roadway into a tree or a ditch and greatly increase the chances of serious injuries.
• Deer are unpredictable creatures, and one that is calmly standing by the side of the road may suddenly leap into the roadway without warning. Slowing down when you spot a deer is the best way to avoid a collision, however, if one does move into your path, maintain control and do your best to brake and give the deer time to get out of your way.
• Don’t rely on hood whistles or other devices designed to scare off deer. These have not been proven to work.
• If you do collide with a deer or large animal, call emergency services if injuries are involved or the local police if damage has been caused to your property or someone else’s. Never touch an animal in the roadway.
Knowing what to do when you encounter a large animal on or near the roadway can be a life saver. Keeping calm and driving smart improve your chances of avoiding a collision and staying safe.
Safe deer hunters are never sorry
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources urges deer hunters to make safety their first priority when Minnesota’s firearm deer season opens Nov. 3 by taking the time now to plan for a safe and successful hunt.
There are many considerations to take into account before the opening morning says Capt. Mike Hammer, DNR Enforcement Education Program Coordinator.
“First, are you going to hunt public or private land? If you are hunting public land, plan that there will be other hunters in the area,” said Hammer. “Scouting for deer signs and signs of other hunters is important to help you to know where you will set-up during the early morning hours before the season starts.”
Hammer noted knowing your safe zone of fire is especially important.
“Properly identifying your target and who or what’s beyond the target is one of the basic rules of hunting safety. Always be aware of your surroundings and never shoot at a sound, it’s probably another hunter,” said Hammer.
If you choose to use an elevated commercial or homemade stand, Hammer advises checking before your hunt to make sure that is properly attached to the tree. He also recommends using a fall arrest system when leaving the ground and using a haul line to raise and lower your unloaded firearm.
“Falls from elevated stands are a leading cause of injury for deer hunters,” said Hammer.
Ground blinds are becoming increasingly popular with deer hunters because they offer protection from the wind, rain, and snow; however, Hammer said it’s important to place blaze orange on the outside of the blind to alert others to your location.
Deer drives present several potential safety problems.
“Plan your deer drive around safety. Everyone involved should know the plan and stick to the plan,” said Hammer.
Deer hunters are also reminded to:
• Treat every firearm as if it’s a loaded firearm.
• Always control your muzzle buy keeping it pointed away others and yourself.
• Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you are absolutely sure it’s safe to fire
• Carefully identify your target and make sure you have a safe backstop before pulling the trigger.
• Never load or unload your firearms around others.
• Be sure that the barrel and action are clear of obstructions.
• Wear plenty of blaze orange. The minimum requirement is a blaze orange cap and blaze orange above the waist
• Never climb a tree or jump a ditch with a loaded firearm.
• Never pull a firearm toward you by the muzzle.
• Always ask permission before entering private land, and as a guest of the landowner, act accordingly.
• Avoid alcoholic beverages or other mood-altering drugs before or while shooting.
Hammer said hunting safety is everyone’s responsibility.
Hunters should refer to the big game hunting section of the “2012 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook” for detailed information concerning deer hunting regulations or call 888-MINNDNR for more information.
Most common firearm deer hunting violations
Minnesota’s firearm deer gets underway Nov. 3, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reminds hunters to follow the rules.
According to Col. Jim Konrad, DNR Enforcement director most hunters are law abiding, but there are those common hunting violations that occur every year.
Konrad said in 2011, conservation officers issued 157 citations and 52 warnings for hunting over bait, while 93 citations and 24 warnings were issued for transporting an uncased/loaded firearm. Shooting from the road right of way at big game is also a top violation with a five year average of 68 citations and 8 warnings each year.
“Failure to validate tag, untagged game, and no license round out the other top violations for 2011,” Konrad said.
Other common infractions include trespass, deer shining, failure to register game, and license not in possession.
“Hunters must know their responsibilities when they get into the field,” Konrad said. “Wildlife laws are written to protect a valuable resource and for safety.”
Hunters with questions on Minnesota’s hunting laws should consult the 2012 Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook.
DNR also encourages hunters to protect the future of their sport by hunting responsibly and reporting hunting violations to the toll-free Turn-In-Poacher (TIP) hotline at 800-652-9093. Also, #TIP is available to most cell phone users in Minnesota.
Hunters urged to review trespass law
A flurry of reports of hunter trespass on private property ranging from Bemidji to Rochester to Hibbing to Marshall was reported during last weekend’s Minnesota pheasant opener.
With the firearm deer season getting under way Nov. 3, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wants to remind hunters that there is one sure way to avoid problems associated with trespassing: “Always Ask First.”
“Trespass is the biggest problem landowners have with hunters,” said Col. Jim Konrad, DNR Enforcement director.
“It is critical for hunters to have good relationships with landowners, especially when you consider that in some parts of the state such as southwestern Minnesota about 95 percent of the land is privately owned.”
Konrad added, “If hunters and other outdoor recreationists would just make it a standard practice to always ask for permission before entering any private land, those relationships would improve a lot.”
Konrad encourages all hunters and landowners to obtain a copy of the 2012 Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook and review the trespass information on pages 6 – 8.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is to be very familiar with the trespass law,” said Konrad.
Trespass penalties range from a $50 civil fine to a criminal penalty of a several thousand dollars, confiscation of vehicles and hunting equipment, and revocation of hunting privileges for up to two years.
New penalties for deer baiting
Participants in Minnesota’s firearm deer season will be greeted with new penalties for baiting violations when they go afield Nov. 3.
“It seems that every year our officers are spending more and more time responding to complaints about baiting or discovering it while on patrol,” said Lt. Col. Rodmen Smith, Minnesota DNR Enforcement assistant director. “We hope these new penalties curb what has become an all too common violation.”
Deer baiting is placing food near deer stands or clearings with the intent of luring a deer into close shooting range. It has been illegal to bait deer in Minnesota since 1991.
DNR conservation officers issued 144 citations, gave 24 warnings and seized 134 firearms/bows in baiting related investigations during the 2011 bow, firearms and muzzleloader seasons. It’s the highest number of baiting citations issued during the deer hunting seasons since the DNR began tracking these violations in 1991.
The Minnesota legislature recognized the negative impact of baiting deer and recently passed legislation to increase the penalties for those convicted of baiting deer.
“It was apparent that a fine and forfeiture of a firearm or bow was not enough to curtail the activity,” said Smith. “In order to show the seriousness of the offense hunters will be subject to license revocation when convicted of baiting deer.”
The new penalties for baiting include:
• A person may not obtain any deer license or take deer under a lifetime license for one year after the person is convicted of hunting deer with the aid or use of bait. The DNR’s Electronic Licensing System (ELS) will also block a person’s ability to purchase a license. A second conviction within three years would result in a 3 year revocation.
• The revocation period doubles if the conviction is for a deer that is a trophy deer scoring higher than 170 inches.
The fine for illegal baiting is $300, plus $80 or so in court costs. Another $500 can be tagged on for restitution if a deer is seized. Guns may be confiscated as well.
Smith said he is hopeful that the new penalties, in addition to fines, restitution and confiscation of guns sends a message that Minnesota values it natural resources and there is a price for engaging in this illegal activity.