The doe and her two fawns crept closer, at first slowly and then with confidence.
Unafraid, the mother stepped 15 feet from the swing where my four-year-old daughter sat watching. Then 12. Then 10. She finally bounded away through the field behind our house, three white tails disappearing into the tall grass.
Deer seem to be everywhere this season — especially in the road.
In the course of a week, I slammed on my brakes for a young buck on Rt. 511 in Camden Township, a doe running along Cooper Foster Park Road at Beaver Creek in Amherst, and two yearlings taking a meal on Rt. 58 near Welcome Nursing Home inside the Oberlin city limits.
It’s impossible to get a good count on how many deer are roaming Lorain County right now, but we can make some educated guesses by looking at last year’s numbers.
An Ohio Insurance Institute report released Sept. 19 warns deer crashes jumped through the roof in 2015 — up 16.9 percent in Lorain County.
We managed to top the list for the second straight year as the county with the most deer-versus-vehicle crashes in Ohio at 596.
Stark and Hamilton counties tied for second place with 527, Richland was next with 503, and Clermont County rounded out the top five with 491 crashes.
Rising deer-related crashes here have been a trend for years, according to Geoff Westerfield, assistant wildlife management supervisor for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
But the reasons are “hard to paint, especially in a county like Lorain where there’s an interesting matrix of urban, rural, and suburb communities,” he said. “It’s hard to paint everything with a broad brush.”
While deer crashes are up, complaints in 2016 of deer damage to fences, gardens, crops, and other property here has dropped slightly from the roughly 40 tracked last year, Westerfield said.
This past winter, we reached out to Lorain County Metro Parks chief naturalist Grant Thompson to learn what effect extremely mild temperatures and limited snowfalls would have.
He told us the record warmth would make more food available to wildlife, including deer. More animals would survive winter conditions to breed, which could lead to a population boom in the spring.
Westerfield’s assessment was split. He said the ODNR doesn’t see much in the way of winter mortality among deer — though he agreed healthier deer would mean a better mating season.
Hunting patterns may actually play a large role in where we see deer and in what numbers, he said.
The state has loosened rural deer hunting regulations in recent years “to provide recreational opportunities, not just for hunting but for photo opportunities,” said Westerfield. Meanwhile, urban deer are largely non-huntable.
Our reporters can verify urban deer are plentiful.
We’ve seen them use railroad tracks, bike paths, creek beds, electric utility right-of-ways, and other tree-screened areas to make it into heavily-populated areas. Residential zones can offer good foraging and safety from predators as well as shelter opportunities.
The ODNR expects hunters this season to harvest between 163,000 and 168,000 deer.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Clay Heaton | Creative Commons Lorain County saw a huge spike in deer crashes last year, according to an Ohio Insurance Institute report released in September.