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Deer rut can be season of horrors

The deer came flying out of the darkness without warning. It crashed down onto the roof of Courtney Smith's Buick. Smith was driving down a rural highway in Northern Wiconsin during October about eight years ago when it happened. "I thought I hit...

The deer came flying out of the darkness without warning. It crashed down onto the roof of Courtney Smith's Buick.

Smith was driving down a rural highway in Northern Wiconsin during October about eight years ago when it happened.

"I thought I hit a person for a minute," said Smith, a Janesville resident.

Then it got weird.

One of the deer's hoofs pierced the hood of the car. The deer sailed off into the darkness. But the leg stayed stuck in the hood.

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"It was like a horror movie," Smith recalled. "The worst part was when the leg came loose, and when it came over the car, all the blood. That probably scared me more."

Carole Levonowich of Williams Bay had a similar experience while driving at night in Salem in about November 1999.

She was doing about 40 mph and saw something out of the corner of her eye.

"It happened so fast. ... There really is like nothing you can do. It's happening to you, and there's nothing you can do about it," Levonowich recalled.

"I was about 2 minutes from home. A big, huge buck with eight or 10 points, I don't know for sure, bounded out from the woods and jumped right on my car, on the hood, and his head kind of flew back and hit the windshield, and he bounded off and went into the culvert and died."

Both women were shaken but not injured.

It's the time of year to recall stories like these, if only to keep ourselves alert and safe.

Now is the most dangerous time of the year for car-deer crashes. The yearly rut keeps deer on the move in October and November, and that means they'll be crossing highways all over the region more frequently than at any other time.

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There was little if anything Smith or Levonowich could have done about their crashes, but there's plenty that motorists can do to better their odds, experts say.

Top two ways: Slow down and scan ahead for deer, especially in the early mornings and evenings.

If you can't stop, don't swerve and risk making matters worse. Levonowich heard that from her husband, a Kenosha County Sheriff's Department corporal, and somehow she remembered it as the crash occurred.

"I just held onto the wheel and stayed straight," she recalled.

Smith was unlucky enough to encounter another deer less than a month after her bloody encounter, but in a place she least expected it.

She and a passenger had just come off Interstate 90/39 and were cruising downhill on Janesville's Racine Street. Her headlights illuminated two eyes in the darkness. She wasn't sure what it was, but she hit the brakes, just in time.

"I just never would've thought. I just didn't think a deer would be there," so close to the city, she said.

The deer-a big, beefy one-streaked across the pavement, inches from the front of her car.

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"We could see his eyes, his little nose," Smith said.

"If I had kept going, it would've gone right in the car. They literally don't know that you're there."

The passenger said they had narrowly escaped death.

"We just looked at each other, and we were speechless. She was right. It would have gone right through the front of the car. We would've been dead."

Smith's advice for this time of year is to remember all those deer you see in the cornfields.

"I mean, they gotta go somewhere, if they get stirred up by something," she said.

-- Copyright © 2007, The Janesville Gazette / Distributed by McClatchy-

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