TIPS ON RIDING IN DEER COUNTRY

Keep in mind that I have been riding in deer country since 1959 and have over a half million miles on my lifetime combined bike-o-meter.  I have seen hundreds of deer and only hit one.

The times to be extra careful about deer and elk are about an hour before and after sunrise and in the late afternoon, especially near sunset.  This is because they go to drink in the morning, graze all mid-day, and return from where they are grazing to where they drink at dayís end. (Hmmm, just like some biker buddies Iíve known!) So, if you find yourself rolling along near a lake, river or stream in the above time periods, keep a sharp eye peeled.  Watch for the highway warning signs with the outline of a deer.  This means 
you are in their area of frequent activity.

If you see a deer or elk cross the road ahead of you, SLOW DOWN!  They stay in groups and if you see one, chances are there are more about to cross the road, AND they may not all cross at the same place.  So, if you see one, watch out for moreÖ and they could be anywhere.

You may have seen those deer whistles that are sold to warn the deer away from a moving vehicle.  They do work.  Most of the guys I know that have ridden for a while have them, but donít think the whistle will mean you donít have to still be alert for deer and elk.  Bugs and dirt will clog these whistles and theyíll loose their sound.  Since we canít hear in that range, we donít know when that happens.  Never assume that animals are hearing your deer whistle.  Also, there is no guarantee that they wonít be spooked into jumping right out in front of you.

Remember these animals are prey, so they are easily frightened and will run in unpredictable patterns.   Something can spook them out of the woods and they wonít pay any attention to lights, horns, or a deer whistle if they think something has selected them for lunch.  This can happen in the dark hours too.  But at night itís more dangerous because you canít see them as easily.  The best strategy is to stay alert and ride defensively. If you find yourself sharing the road with these animals, be aware that they will panic 
and bolt away.  Donít you panic!  Slow down, remain calm, and allow them to choose their escape route.  Animals are a hazard, but only one of many we have to deal with when on the road.

The deer I hit?  OK, donít twist my arm, Iíll tell the story: 

My one hit deer happened in 1996 when I was leading a tour through Yellowstone Park.  Early in the tour I had strained my back helping one of our riders with a lame motorcycle.  It was a tenting tour and sleeping on the ground made my backache worse each day.  It got so bad I finally decided to leave the tour two days early and ride home alone for treatment.  I was fine while riding the bike, but if I got off, I could hardly walk.  I left the group after breakfast at West Yellowstone and was riding alone north toward I-90.  At about ten oíclock I was on a twisty two-lane road going downhill doing about 45-50 mph.  The last thing I expected that time of morning was a deer.  The road was a sweeping downhill curve with a steep hill dropping off to the right.  There was a metal guardrail along the edge of the blacktop.  The guardrail blocked my view of him down the hill and apparently his view of me as well.  He leaped up the hill and over the guardrail and was suddenly just right there in front of me.  When he landed on the highway blacktop, his footing slipped and he went down like a sacked quarterback.

Swerving to the right would have put me into the guardrail and over the mountain hillside.  Swerving to the left would have put me into the oncoming traffic.  Hitting the brakes would mean less steering control and I knew 
there was heavy traffic following right behind me.  Fortunately, there was no time to think about any of these options.  I just reacted by habit and instinct.  I relaxed my throttle and gripped the handlebars for the impact.  
His head and shoulder hit the right front lowersí guard and the impact spun him around.  He hit the case guard of my right saddlebag and went under the right wheel of my trailer.

The first impact probably killed him, but if not the Cadillac behind me finished him off.  I couldnít stop because there was no place for me to pull off the road, especially with my sore back on a downhill, two-lane road.  
Besides, there was nothing I could do.  So, I just kept riding till I got to a place to pull off the road to sort out my head, check for damage and have a brief religious service.

I donít know what people thought who saw a big blue motorcycle run over a four point buck and just keep going.  I had a quick view of the stopped traffic in my rear view mirror as I continued down the highway.  No one ever caught up with me or stopped to comment.

To my total surprise, neither my Cavalcade nor my trailer had one scratch of damage.  There was some water and hair at the impact spots and thatís all.  The damage was wiped away with a dry towel.  AMAZING!

This could have been a tragedy except:
1. He fell. If Iíd hit him broadside or caught an antler of foot, it might have been over for me.
2. I was riding the right motorcycle.  The weight of the Cavalcade kept me stable and upright.  There was never  a hint of loss of control.  The lowersí guards of the LXE took all the impact and pushed him away from the 
motorcycleís wheels.
3. He was a deer, not an elk.  A bigger animal probably would have gone under the bike and taken me down.  Itís scary to think of all the things that could have gone wrong.  Iím just grateful they went right.  Sorry about the deer though.

I hope this story doesnít scare anyone.  For you new riders and passengers, remember Iíd been riding 37 years when this happened and I rode a lot!  You have more to worry about from 18-wheelers than you do from four-footed critters.  I like to tell this story because there are a lot of lessons in it for all riders.  Best of all, it proves again that we ride the biggest, baddest, best bike on the road!

Ride Careful and Stay Safe,

Jay Johnson

Last updated:   Wednesday, February 06, 2013

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