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BRAD DOKKEN COLUMN: Watch out for deer on the roads this fall

GRAND FORKS — A news release from State Farm insurance hit my inbox earlier this week, and it offered a timely reminder for all of us who log bigtime road miles in the fall pursuing our outdoor passions or just making shorter, routine trips.

Be on the lookout for deer. There are more of them out there, and the odds of hitting a deer—or elk, moose or caribou—are higher than they were last year, State Farm said in releasing the results of its 15th annual deer claim study.

Historically, October, November and December are the worst months for claims because the animals are on the move during breeding season; dawn and dusk are especially risky.

Minnesota and North Dakota both rank in the top 10 among states where motorists are most likely to file a deer collision claim, State Farm says. Minnesota ranks No. 7 on the list with a likelihood that 1 out of every 74 drivers will file a claim—an increase of 8 percent from last year.

In North Dakota, which ranks No. 10, 1 in 87 motorists will file a claim, State Farm says.

West Virginia tops the list with a 1-in-43 chance of filing a claim.

State Farm uses claims data and state licensed driver counts from the Federal Highway Administration to calculate the collision odds, projecting the numbers for the insurance industry as a whole, the insurer said.

Direct hits

At the risk of jinxing myself, it's been nearly 20 years since I last hit a deer. The last meeting of bumper and Bambi occurred in late November 1997. I was eastbound on state Highway 1 somewhere past Northome, Minn., when a doe came bolting out of the south ditch on a snowy night as I was driving to a resort near Big Fork, Minn., to join some friends on an early ice fishing excursion.

The encounter happened so fast I didn't even have a chance to hit the brakes. It was the second deer claim I filed on that 1988 Ford Ranger, the first being on a southwest Minnesota pheasant hunt a few years earlier.

The collisions caused substantial hood and bumper damage, but I was able to continue driving the vehicle both times. That was especially fortunate with the Northome collision, because there's a whole lot of nothing between the stretch of highway where I hit the deer and my fishing destination that still was more than an hour away on snow-covered roads.

I had a cellphone about the size of a brick with me in the truck, but there was no service in the remote area. Heavy snow was falling when I finally pulled into the resort, and my fishing partners said I looked like the Tasmanian Devil when I came flying into the cabin; I definitely was cranked up.

Fortunately, the deer I've dropped since then have been at the receiving end of a bullet instead of a bumper, but I've had several close calls.

Traveling across northwest Minnesota as frequently as I do this time of year, I definitely am seeing more deer. Hitting a deer can be a costly occurrence, and the national average cost per claim from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017 was $4,179—up from $3,995 during the 2015-16 time period, State Farm said.

Safety tips

State Farm also offered these tips for preventing collisions or reducing the chances of injury. As former Herald editor and publisher Mike Jacobs used to write in his office memos, "Read and heed":

• Slow down, particularly at dusk and dawn.

• If you see one deer, be prepared for more deer to cross the road.

• Pay attention to deer crossing signs.

• Buckle up. Every trip, every time.

• Use your high beams to see farther, except when there is oncoming traffic.

• Brake if you can, but avoid swerving, which could result in a more severe crash.

• Remain focused on the road, scanning for hazards, including animals.

• Avoid distractions, like devices or eating, which might cause you to miss seeing an animal.

• Do not rely on products such as deer whistles, which are not proven effective.

• If riding a motorcycle, always wear protective gear and keep focus on the road ahead.

• Drivers should be engaged, alert and on the lookout at all times, because you never know when you may need to react to a deer or other obstacle that may cross your travel path.