Avoid those deer encounters

Long ago “in the olden days,” as my kids like to say, I had an extreme near-deer experience. Some people have near-death experiences, but apparently mine are wildlife oriented. I suppose I’m glad we don’t live in bear country.

We were driving my Grandma’s 1963 Chevy Impala (looking back, I appreciate the irony there), heading toward Hutchinson to visit Dairy King. My small self was in the front seat that day, sandwiched between Dad in the driver’s seat and Mom on the passenger side.

Grandma and her sister were in the back seat, keeping the commentary on the surrounding countryside flowing in a never-ending stream. Every fencepost, every tree, every sign must be duly verbally noted, apparently ensuring its continuing existence.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a huge buck materialized in front of the car. Thirty-three hundred pounds of rolling Detroit steel smashed into 200 or so pounds of whitetail buck with extreme prejudice.

The car lurched forward and ever so slightly upward, then slowed as Dad braked hard. The collective gasp from us inside the car probably rendered the interior an oxygenless environment for several seconds.

We turned our heads, in slow motion it seemed, to watch the deer stagger into the ditch, then launch itself over the fence and into the scrub woods on the side of the road.

The amazing ability of the deer to emerge seemingly unscathed from this encounter definitely stuck in my mind, but not quite as much as the damage to Grandma’s car.

They built them to last in those days, and indeed the damage was fairly minimal. The biggest thing I remember was how hard it was to find a grille to replace the one that bore the concave imprint of the deer’s belly.

In the years following that incident, I have had my share of near-deer experiences. I’ve seen them in the ditches, debating whether or not to attempt to beat the chickens in the road crossing department.

I’ve seen the ones who made it safely across before my hurtling vehicle can occupy their space. I see the ones a quarter of a mile away, standing majestically still in the sunset (I like those the best). None of them have hit or been hit by my particular conveyance, until a few days ago.

We had decided to drive to town for supper, and headed out after shutting in the chickens at sunset. Of course, it not being rutting season, deer weren’t really high on my list of mental priorities.

As we drove along into the deepening dusk, suddenly my darling hubby calmly said, “Look out.” Reflexively, I tapped my brakes.

I blinked. Right there, on the right side of the front of my SUV was a tawny hindquarter. My brain somehow found enough visual cues in that split second to let me know that it was a doe I was about to hit, and that her sister was even with my door.

The SUV shuddered slightly, there was a bonk on the rear passenger door, then a strange smell. Groaning inwardly, I pulled over.

Sure enough, we had made solid contact with her butt on the right side. The headlight was shattered, the bumper ripped, and the quarter panel on that side buckled in.

Oddly, the hood was unscathed. Most of the exposed edges bore heavy amounts of wiry deer hair, the overheating parts of which were creating the odd smell. Looking back through the dusk, there was no sign of either deer.

After ensuring that the remains of the bumper were strapped down and discovering that my beloved vehicle was indeed still drivable, we breathed a sigh of relief. We were all unharmed and the damage is fixable.

We were even able to make jokes about what new equipment to fit, and whether or not a deer grille would reduce mileage enough to force us to take out a mortgage to pay for gas.

In the light of the next day, what we had thought was a piece of the bumper bonking the passenger side appears to be a lot of snot and more deer hair. I’m even happier that we didn’t hit a buck—antlers through the window wouldn’t have been a good deal.

Hubby informs me that, since I didn’t try to swerve to miss the deer, I’m a good driver. He apparently saw the oncoming car in the other lane in addition to the other deer.

I guess I’m blessed with great arm-locking skills, or at the very least, I’m apparently not twitchy. Thirty-five years passed between those two incidents. I’m perfectly fine if another 35 or more go by before my next near-deer experience.

A friend of mine said, “That’s got to be the hard way to hunt,” and I agree. Good thing we don’t live in bear country.

Shana Thornhill lives on farm near Marion. She can be reached at shotah76@yahoo.com.