When Jennifer Becker and her husband, Brian, drive up to their other home in upper Michigan, she usually drives and he watches for eyes near the road—a sign for deer.

But during one drive in February or March of this year, Brian assumes something spooked a deer who kept its head and eyes down and ran into the front driver’s quarter panel of their car, Jennifer said.

The whole bumper on the company Jeep had to be replaced. The hood smashed into the driver’s door so hard Jennifer had to climb out the passenger-side window, said Jennifer, who owns Elkhorn Automotive and Tire Center in Elkhorn with Brian.

The two were OK following the crash, but they had to order car parts on eBay and have people from their shop put it all back together.

The deer breeding season, which runs from September through November, causes a spike in deer movement patterns, Lt. Rick Reed of the state Department of Natural Resources said in an email.

This means more deer-related crashes. Officials are encouraging motorists to be more careful.

Walworth County saw a spike in deer-related crashes last year—going from just above 300 in 2015 to 341 in 2016. The 2016 amount was higher than it’s been in Walworth County in at least the last 20 years, according to data from the state Department of Transportation.

Reed said over the past three years the DNR estimates the deer herd has grown 11 percent in Walworth County. He also said last year’s mild weather may have caused more deer movement and more vehicle traffic in the roads.

Wisconsin law enforcement agencies in total reported 20,413 crashes between deer and motor vehicles, the DOT reported. Dane County saw the most with 1,006.

To be more careful, Reed suggested that motorists slow down and scan the area in front and to the sides continuously. He said deer often cross in groups, so seeing one deer is a sign more are nearby.

Other tips, provided by the DOT, include:

  • Be most vigilant at the early morning or evening hours, when deer are most active.
  • If a deer is in your headlights, don’t expect it to move away.
  • Do not swerve because swerving can confuse deer as to where to run. Swerving can also cause the driver to lose control and get into a more serious crash.

An exception to this rule is for motorcycles. Motorcycles should slow down, brake firmly and swerve if necessary to avoid hitting the deer, the DOT said in a news release.

  • Slow down and always wear a seatbelt.

The extent of damage to vehicles from deer accidents varies from minor to severe, Walworth County Patrol Capt. Dave Gerber said in an email. The size of the deer, angle and speed of the impact and size of the vehicle are among factors that determine how bad the crash is, he said.

Many exterior components on vehicles today are made of plastic, Gerber said. This means even low-speed crashes can cause a lot of damage.

Drivers can also strike other objects, such as trees, while trying to avoid deer, Gerber said.

The Beckers recently had someone bring their car in after they hit a deer. Jennifer said the radiator was blown out, the bumper was messed up and the grill had suspension damage.

The Beckers don’t really drive the company Jeep back and forth anymore, Jennifer said with a chuckle. The car Jennifer drives now has stronger lights so they can see more.

“You’re always a lot more cautious looking for those eyeballs,” she said.

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