Driving down a winding forest road in Minnesota one night, I had an experience that has instilled in me a true fear of autumn deer movement.
Before moving to Minnesota, every year I made the drive from Colorado with my father and brothers to the rural Bigfork area for a week of grouse hunting.
We had a tradition upon arrival of Extreme Deer Alert. Extreme Deer Alert is a “safety” practice in which anyone in the car yells “DEER!” at the top of their lungs at the sight, or even hint, of a deer, thus alerting the driver to the presence of danger.
We did this because, as we all know, a sort of deer-car magnetism exists that bends the laws of gravity, especially in the fall, and increases the attraction of deer to cars and vice versa.
Extreme Deer Alert was as much a joke as a safety precaution. Usually everybody except the driver spotted a deer and yelled at once, and the driver would nearly jump out of his skin.
But one night marks what I remember as the beginning of the fade-out of Extreme Deer Alert. With my dad driving, I was in the passenger’s seat and one of my brothers was in the back. We were but 20 miles from our destination on what had been a grueling drive of more than 1,000 miles from Colorado. We had driven through the night and we were all exhausted for that last leg of the drive.
There we were, winding through the forested roads of rural Bigfork; through the kind of roads where the woods seem to press in from the sides. Suddenly, in one remarkably graceful leap, a deer came out of the forest and landed on its four feet in the center of our lane, just as the car struck it.
The deer flew through the air and slid down the ditch, dead on impact. We were in a large car, so the deer hit the hood but not the windshield; we were fortunately fine, but the car was not. We pulled over to discover a crushed radiator. One headlight was operational, but the other pointed up into the trees.
We were so close to our destination, we chose to drive the car there where we could do a better assessment of how bad the damage really was. We hit the road again.
I remember coming over a hill when, ahead of us, a car was oncoming with its high beams on. We couldn’t see much, but as the car got closer and dimmed its brights, we were able to see a second deer ambling slowly across the road. We couldn’t stop in time or miss it, and we hit our second deer within 15 minutes of the first.
We hit not one but two deer in a single evening. We made it to our destination, but the car was totaled.
We all drive a bit differently after that experience. At night, on rural roads like ours, I try to devote myself to spotting deer in the woods and the ditches, and I drive slower especially during what one might term “deer hour,” the time of night when the sun is setting and animals really move around.
And, naturally, Extreme Deer Alert is taken a little more seriously.