Close Encounters of the Four-Legged Kind

Close Encounters of the Four-Legged Kind

Among the most difficult hazards for motorcyclists to avoid are four-legged animals, which can appear suddenly, without warning and cause a rider to part company with his or her motorcycle. I learned this lesson the hard way early in my motorcycling career.

Nowadays, I find myself continually scanning the road and terrain ahead, looking for potential intruders. Modern civilization has removed many of the natural predators, which used to keep the deer population in check. In addition, urban sprawl has invaded the habitat of deer, foxes, bears, coyotes, and numerous others, putting them in closer proximity to humans and their motor vehicles. Black bears are often sighted these days along the Blue Ridge Parkway and have even been spotted in suburban areas near my home.

I’ve had deer emerge suddenly from vegetation growing close to the road, but fortunately I’ve never hit one. Hunters tell me that deer are most active in the fall when bucks are in rut (i.e., desperately seeking female companionship, etc.). That is the time of year when motorcyclists must be extra vigilant. Throughout the year, though, deer are active near dusk, at night, and around sunrise. It’s also my understanding that they’re usually less active when it rains.

I recall riding in Canada once and noticing signs with a moose depicted in full gallop. Although the tree line was well back from the roadway, locals told me that a moose can cover that distance in almost the blink of an eye. (A fully grown moose can weigh around 1,800 pounds, and can reach running speeds of around 35 mph!)

So, it’s obviously best for riders not to run into wildlife of any size if they can possibly avoid them.

Here are a few tips for minimizing the risk of a four-legged meet-and-greet:

  1. Avoid riding at night whenever possible.
  2. When vegetation is close to the pavement, don’t position your bike near the far-right edge. In those situations, it’s safer to ride in the middle of the lane to allow a small amount of additional reaction time. If that puts you too close to the rider directly ahead, then drop back and open up more space.
  3. When you see one deer, there likely will be several more you don’t see. Stop and wait for all of them to pass.
  4. Don’t try to predict which way deer in the road will flee. You don’t know what they will do and neither do they, so just stop and play it safe.
  5. Constantly scan the road and terrain ahead, looking for any telltale movement.
  6. Those yellow deer warning signs along the roadside are there for a reason; pay them heed by slowing down.
  7. When riding in the fall months, be extra alert for four-legged creatures.
  8. Avoid high speeds in areas often trafficked by deer or other animals.
  9. It’s not been sufficiently proven, at least to me, that deer whistles are 100% effective, so don’t depend on them and fail to take other reasonable precautions.
  10. Never get between an adult female and her young. It won’t end well.
  11. Always wear full motorcycle protective riding gear.

Continue to enjoy the ride, but remain observant, like a hawk, because the risk of an animal encounter may be just around the next curve or over the next hill.