Ask Zimo: Slow down and avoid hitting a deer on Idaho’s highways

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comJanuary 9, 2014 

Q: This morning (Monday, Jan. 6) driving into Boise from Idaho City, I saw a sight I don’t ever want to see again.

A buck was badly injured, perhaps with a broken back and legs, and could not get off the road. Its head was up and the deer was obviously alive and conscious.

What can a person do, other than leave a message on the phone to Fish and Game? Would it be illegal to have someone come quickly and put the animal out of its misery (even if they just moved the carcass off to the side of the road)?

Thank you for any info.

SUSAN BAKER, via email

A: I saw a similar situation one night several weeks ago coming back from cross-country skiing near Beaver Creek Summit.

A young deer had been hit and was lying in the middle of Idaho 21 down the hill between Hill Top and Lucky Peak Dam.

It was dark and we got out headlamps and put on our car blinkers and tried to warn oncoming motorists.

Luckily, the deer seemed only to be stunned and it soon got up and ran off. It looked like it was OK as it hopped over the embankment into the sagebrush.

I talked with the driver of the car the deer had hit. The young deer apparently ran into the side of the car.

This stretch of Idaho 21 is a hotspot, and I always see deer moving at night.

Now how the law applies to your incident. Only Idaho Fish and Game staff and other law enforcement personnel are authorized to dispatch a wounded animal, said Evin Oneale, regional conservation educator at the F&G’s Nampa office.

In rare instances, F&G authorizes others to do it, he said.

“The best thing a motorist can do in this sad circumstance is call their local law enforcement agency dispatch number or their local F&G office,” Oneale said.

Idaho 21 slices right through prime mule deer winter range and the best thing for motorists commuting from Idaho City to Boise is to slow down and keep an eye out for deer.

At night, my co-pilot and I are watching the road shoulders for anything like a flash of a tail or glow of eyes.

Deer are most active before dawn and after sunset, said Oneale. “Slowing down just 10 miles an hour will greatly increase driver reaction time and better help a motorist avoid a collision with a deer crossing the road,” he said.

If you see one deer that has already crossed the highway, watch out for more. Others in the herd usually try to catch up to the first deer and will jump out on the road.

F&G says you can also honk your horn to warn them. One thing to remember: “deer in the headlights effect.” It’s not just a saying. Deer really become confused by headlights, so be careful. They may freeze and not get out of the way.

Another thing: If I see the brake lights start going on in cars ahead of me, I figure the drivers are slowing for deer.

Veteran commuters along that stretch know where the deer are, and if they slow down, you’d better do it, too.

By the way, Idaho Transportation Department highway engineers and F&G biologists want to know which sections of Idaho’s highways are the most dangerous for motorists and wildlife.

They have a collaborative effort building a database to record road-kill information.

They use the information to design safer roadways for motorists and better wildlife crossings, like the one on Idaho 21 near Lucky Peak Reservoir.

If you see a road kill, you can note the date and location (like mile marker).

Then you can go online at and mark the location.

You need to note the animal involved, and if possible, give as much detail as to its age and gender. You can tell older animals from younger ones pretty easily.

Anyway, slow down and save a critter.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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