It's like a rite of passage in Grant County to get your first deer - unfortunately, too often it happens by vehicular assault. Law enforcement officials in recent days have been reminded of that trend with a series of calls to clear dead deer from the roadways or finish off deer that are seriously injured by cars or trucks.
Of course, there will always be a risk for deer that follow wildlife corridors onto rural highways or get comfortable enough around people to frequent yards near public streets. Deer don't respect sidewalks, register speed of oncoming cars or understand the peril that's implied by headlights in the darkness.
Even worse, right now the bucks may be in rut, a time when their hormones take charge and they lose whatever wariness they might have the rest of the year. Sheriff Glenn Palmer says that was a factor recently when a driver swerved to miss a doe crossing the highway but then slammed into the big buck that was on her trail. The result: a magnificent animal was wasted on the highway.
Palmer is urging residents and visitors to watch out for such situations - remember, one deer crossing the roadway is often just a sign that a second will appear. He also believes some of the carnage could be avoided if drivers would just slow down a little.
Deer are one of Grant County's most valued natural resources. Along with elk, they are the base for a hunting and outdoors industry that is vital to the county's tourism efforts. While the elk herds seem to be thriving right now, deer are having a tough time due to years of drought and poor forage.
Last spring, the Blue Mountain Eagle reported on concerns about the deer herds. "The deer population has been in a general long-term decline," according to Ryan Torland, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist. He pegged the losses largely to habitat.
That makes highway losses even more tragic.
Protect yourself, your vehicles and Grant County's prize deer herds by slowing down, especially in low-light conditions and in areas that are known wildlife corridors. Perhaps the best advice would be to just assume that there's a deer on every highway shoulder, and it's not paying the slightest bit of attention to you.