Bob Anderson, Wild Animal Rehabilitator and President of Hearts Afire Responds:
Each year over 1.5 million deer are hit by automobiles in the United States. These collisions are hard to defend against because usually the deer comes out of the darkness quickly with little or no warning. Few people give much thought to hitting a deer because it is such a random event that most people think will never happen to them. When it does occur, most people don’t know what to do.
There are two considerations to a post deer collision. The first is the reporting obligations of the driver. Many of these incidents occur in rural areas where it’s not clear who to report the incident to.
Unfortunately, there is no standard protocol for reporting deer collisions. Each jurisdiction has its own protocols for reporting auto accidents. Some require reporting all auto accidents, others only require reporting accidents with property damage and others set limits on damage levels and reporting. Complicating these many reporting requirements is the fact that wildlife is managed by the state. Each state also has its own set of rules and requirements concerning both reporting and disposition of the deer. So, what should you do?
To cover yourself from possible legal issues, you should report the incident the same as you would any crash. Call 911 and report the incident and ask the 911 operator what you should do. If you want to harvest the animal for food, tell the operator of your wishes and let them tell you the state requirements. Be prepared to wait for a responding authority if requested to do so. You should also remember to contact your insurance company if you will be filing a claim.
Consideration should also be given to the deer. Deer seldom survive a collision, but occasionally their injuries are treatable and the animal can be saved with your help. If the deer runs from the scene, you will probably never see it again. If it is injured and still on scene, you can visually inspect it for injuries. If the animal is unable to stand and is dragging its hind legs, you are most likely looking at a spinal injury. These deer will need to be euthanized. Deer with multiple broken legs are also beyond help. Animals showing no obvious serious injuries or just cuts and tissue damage may be able to be saved. You should contact a rehabilitation facility.
If the deer is deceased, you can take a look at the deer’s belly to determine if she is a nursing female. If she is, her teats will be swollen and usually a light pink color. To be sure, you can squeeze one of the teats and look for a milk discharge. If she is a “wet” doe, you must try to locate a fawn. A nursing fawn cannot survive on its own. If there is a fawn, you will usually find it near the roadway right at the place the adult deer entered the roadway. The fawn will be lying in the deep grass or brush and will be very still. They are hard to spot, but will usually be close to the road. If you find the fawn, pick it up and try to keep it calm and quiet. This is best accomplished by covering the deer and its eyes with a large towel, blanket or jacket. Contact a rehabilitator.
When you report the accident, you should tell the authorities that you have an orphan animal. Ask them for a rehab contact. If you cannot get that information, contact your state game department who license all rehab centers. Most states have good Samaritan laws that allows people to legally possess wild animals while they get the animal to a properly licensed facility.