You are driving along, watching out for the "other guy," when suddenly a deer leaps out in front of your car.

If you live in western Montana, this has probably happened to you. Nobody has ever explained to me the attraction of deer and elk to auto headlights. I've thought it may mean there's a genetic connection between deer and moths.

Whatever the reason, deer-auto accidents are expensive to the human and deadly to the animal. This time of year (when two seasons coincide - deer mating season and general hunting season) always brings more of the conflicts to the front pages of the newspapers.

Having experienced that shocking situation a couple of times, I've asked Montana Highway Patrolmen how to avoid the danger. They almost always say that you should slow down - even below the posted speed limit (which is really hard for us Montanans to do).

Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials have even more tips.

  • Don't drive on cruise control between dusk and dawn when animals are most active.
  • Be aware that deer and elk rarely travel alone. If you avoid one, there may be another alongside the road.
  • If you do see an animal near the road, slow down and use your brakes rather than your steering wheel to avoid the collision. No radical swerves!
  • While driving, keep looking along the shoulders and in the ditches, especially during October and November.
  • If you hit a deer, leave it alone. Notify police, sheriff or Montana Highway Patrol. They will take care of it. It's against the law for you to transport any part of it, including the antlers.
  • There are trouble areas that have main crossings and that includes Highway 93 south of Lolo. Since December of last year, 12 elk have been hit in that stretch alone. Yes, that's all year long - not just October and November. I'm sticking with my moth theory.