You may not own a single piece of blaze-orange clothing. You may barely know one end of a rifle from the other.
But about 5,000 of you will kill a deer before the New Year -- with your car.
"Breeding activity is really driving deer behavior now," said Paul Johansen, assistant chief in charge of game management for the state Division of Natural Resources.
"You've got bucks that are chasing does all over the place. This time of year right now is the peak of movement."
With the beginning of rifle hunting season on Monday, even more road crossings are anticipated as deer try to avoid humans.
State Division of Highways records of car-related deer kills give a glimpse of just how many deer are on the roadways during the fall peak. In 1998, there were 1,545 kills in October, 2,006 in November and 1,107 in December statewide. In 1999, there were 2,037 kills in October, 2,686 in November and 1,548 in December.
Even in summer months, deer kills hover around 600 per month statewide, according to Roger Russell, highways division traffic operations engineer. He noted overall kill figures are probably even higher because division records don't include injured deer that have recovered or those that crawled away from the road to die.
West Virginia law does not require motorists to report a deer hit to police, according to Jim Miles, a Harrison County sheriff's deputy. Only 1,730 accident reports were filed in 1999, according to highways division records.
"Usually, people call when they need a report for their insurance claim," Miles said.
Art Sprinkle, State Farm Insurance's estimate team manager for the North Central region, said deer hits cause hundreds to thousands of dollars of damage per incident. Because of the intricacies of the claims process, hitting a deer outright is often less expensive to the insured than damage caused by swerving to miss one, however.
Russell said there is another reason to avoid wild swerves -- safety.
He had some frightening math to make his suggestion stronger, especially for night travelers. Headlights project about 200 feet. A car traveling 70 miles per hour is moving 103 feet per second.
That means the driver has two seconds to react to a deer in the headlights.
"All you have time to do is hit the brakes," Russell said. "If you try a steering correction, you will probably roll the vehicle."
That is exactly what happened twice in the last week on Interstate 79 in the southern part of Harrison County. Within a period of six days, a sport utility vehicle rolled and a semi-tractor trailer jack-knifed while swerving to miss deer. Two of the SUV occupants who were not wearing seatbelts were killed.
Realizing the danger involved in deer hits, the highways division has tried a few things to keep deer off the roads, Russell said.
In the early 1990s, workers installed special reflectors between mile markers 74 and 76 on I-79. They were intended to bounce headlight glare into the woods, mimicking the appearance of a large predator. It didn't work.
"An eight-foot-high deer fence without any holes in it works very well," he added of an installation the division put in at a hot spot off Corridor H near Buckhannon. But such installations are too expensive to use extensively.
Russell said watching for deer crossing signs is ultimately motorists' best defense. The highways division places signs in one-mile areas where seven or more deer have been killed in a year, or five or more for two years in a row.
Given the state's deer population, there are a number of areas that qualify.
Johansen said the Northern Panhandle and Ohio River counties have the highest concentrations of deer in the state, but one-fourth of counties are over the DNR's population objective. Among them regionally are: Doddridge, Lewis, Marion, Monongalia, Taylor and Upshur counties.
The DNR estimates the state deer herd at about one million, approximately 200,000 more than desired. The estimates are made based on numbers of bucks killed per square mile, which is generally desired to be about four or five. Ohio County leads the state with a rate of nine.
"The way we manage the population is through the hunting season," Johansen said, noting about 230,000 deer were killed by hunters in West Virginia in 1999. "Deer didn't get to these levels overnight and it's going to take us several years to bring them down."
This year, the DNR is offering a special antlerless season for private hunting areas in counties targeted for reduction. The season will run concurrently with rifle season for bucks and Johansen is hoping the 350,000 hunters expected to hit the woods this week will take advantage of the opportunity to help themselves and motorists.
"I hope that everyone has a safe and enjoyable hunt," he said.
Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1403 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.