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Avoiding the state's million deer involves defensive driving and alertness

Deer-vehicle collisions are occurring daily in and around Hubbard County as deer venture out for food. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

It's time to fear the deer.

Deer are on the move because of the breeding season and crop harvest.

That's means drivers should be on extra alert, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety .

The chances of hitting a deer may be greater than you think.

Statewide there were 7,751 deer-vehicle crashes reported to DPS during the last three years. More than one-third of those crashes took place in October and November - resulting in 19 deaths, of which 15 were motorcyclists.

The crashes also resulted in 65 serious injuries, of which 57 were suffered by motorcyclists.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimates the state's deer population is one million.

How can you avoid hitting one of them?

"Drive focused and defensively by looking for reflecting deer eyes and silhouettes, especially during low-light times, and in forested and farm areas," said Lieutenant Eric Roeske of the Minnesota State Patrol . "Deer do unpredictable things, like stop in the middle of the road, or cross and quickly re-cross. Sound your horn to urge the deer to leave the road."

The DPS also offers these tips:

n Buckle up, drive at safe speeds and pay attention. Be especially cautious during dusk and dawn when deer are more active.

n Don't veer for deer. Swerving can cause motorists to lose control and travel off the road or into oncoming traffic. Bringing a vehicle to a controlled stop and hitting a deer is safer than swerving.

n For motorcyclists, a rider's best response when encountering a deer is to slow down quickly and then drive carefully around the animal at low speed. Riders are encouraged to wear helmets and other high-visibility protective gear to prevent injury or death in a crash. Motorcycle riders should also consider avoiding night and low-light riding periods (dusk and dawn) when deer are more active. If a collision cannot be avoided, keep head and eyes up to improve chances of keeping the bike up.

n Don't count on deer whistles or deer fences to deter deer from crossing roads, advises the DPS.

n Watch for the reflection of deer eyes and for deer silhouettes on the shoulder of the road. If anything looks slightly suspicious, slow down.

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

What to do if you hit a deer

Any Minnesota resident may claim a road-killed animal by contacting a law enforcement officer. An authorization permit will be issued allowing the individual to lawfully possess the deer.

If a deer is struck but not killed by a vehicle, keep a distance as deer may recover and move on. If a deer does not move on, or poses a public safety risk, report the incident to a DNR conservation officer or other local law enforcement agency.

Al Edenloff writes for the Alexandria Echo Press, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.