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D’oh! What to do if you hit a deer

September 22, 2018

It’s that time of year - white-tailed deer are more active as bucks are starting to seek does for breeding - and it’s not good news for Northwest Montana drivers.

A review 911 dispatch logs shows an uptick in the number of deer vs. vehicle collisions in the region during the last week, a trend that will likely continue into November. Montana ranks in the top three in the U.S. for its rate of vehicle collisions with wildlife. On average, one out of every 57 Montana drivers will have a collision caused by a deer, according to State Farm Insurance Agency.

Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry advises drivers to slow down and pay attention with wildlife becoming more active.

“The calls are starting to increase,” Curry said. “People just need to be more attentive when they are driving, particularly early in the morning or at dusk.”

Curry said some of the calls deal with people asking about what to do if they have hit a deer.

“If the deer is still alive, some ask if they can put it down, and they are allowed ... as long as it’s in a safe manner. The first concern is safety in regard to discharging a gun.”

For those who don’t carry a firearm or are uneasy about putting a wounded animal down, they can call 911 and a sheriff’s deputy, patrol officer or Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks warden will take care of the deed, according to Curry.

Curry also said some callers have even asked if it’s OK to put a wounded deer in their vehicle to take it somewhere to get help.

“No one should be doing that. A deer that may seem dead or out of it can quickly become a danger if it isn’t really dead. They can kick with their hooves, or gore you with their antlers,” Curry said.

If a driver does hit a deer, they can report it so the Montana Department of Transportation can remove the deer from the road.

“In terms of reporting to (Montana) Highway Patrol, the damages must be $1,000 or more. And while it’s not necessary, it is appreciated if the driver can move the deer off the road,” Curry added.

According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, if an individual dispatches an animal with a weapon, it can’t be used for salvage.

For those who are interested in salvaging a road-killed deer, elk, moose or antelope, according to Montana Code, a peace officer may issue permits to applicants for the purpose of salvaging those animals that have been accidentally killed as a result of a vehicle collision only. Peace officers include a sheriff, deputy sheriff, undersheriff, police officer, highway patrol officer, fish and game warden, park ranger, campus security officer, or airport police officer.

According to Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the permits are free from a peace officer or online at http://fwp.mt.gov/hunting/licenses/salvagePermit.html.

A person may pick up an animal that he or she did not hit. The process is the same and the person must obtain a salvage permit at the FWP web page.

Anyone who salvages a road-killed deer, elk, moose, or antelope will be required to remove the entire animal from where it is found. Parts or viscera cannot be left at the site. To do so is a violation of state law and would encourage other wildlife to scavenge in a place that would put them at risk of also being hit.

A person must obtain a permit within 24 hours of the time they take an animal into their possession. The permit must be a hardcopy (printed) permit as issued through the FWP online permit system.

Meat rendered from salvaged animals must be used for human consumption and it may not be used for bait or other purposes. Also, meat taken from salvaged animals may not be sold.

Meat may be donated, though, and the North Valley Food Bank in Whitefish is an excellent choice.

The food bank is the only one in Montana to accept road-killed animals.

“We have a special processing area in the back of the building where we grind up any meat we get into hamburger,” food bank board member Pat Sapa said. “We’ll take just about anything, deer, elk, bear. Fish and Game even brings us fish and we’ve received quite a bit of lake trout over the years.

“We’re very blessed here in the valley with the donations we’ve received,” Sapa said. “There are a lot of generous people here.”

Sapa said they also received processed meat from hunters who are making room for fresh meat, and from people or businesses that have donated livestock from the Northwest County Fair.

Sapa said for those who want to make a donation of fish and game, or anything else, they should call 862-5863.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker can be reached at 406-758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.

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