Since leaving Kansas in 1969 most of the places I’ve lived involve driving through areas populated by large furry 4 legged creatures and I’ve had my share of close calls. Many is the time I’ve been hauling down the highway at night and glimpsed a deer or elk in my peripheral vision as I flashed past. Many more times I’ve seen the creatures and been able to slow down and let them pass. And more than I’d like to admit it, I’ve left massive skid marks, spun around in the road, and barely avoided colliding with critters that would do terrible damage to me and my vehicle. It would have been a bad day for the critter too. But so far (he said, knocking on wood) I’ve only bumped into a creature once.
Probably the closest call I had came about 3 miles from home. I spent 10 years delivering the Rocky Mountain News on a rural route to make extra money. Lots of the subscribers own horses and cows and the like but they are mostly fenced in….mostly. One morning I was running a bit late and driving fast between tubes to make up some time. Flying around a curve on a gravel road I spotted a huge mound of black hair in the road. Brakes max, e-brake on, wheel spun to the left, my truck spun 1 or 2 full circles before coming to a stop about 18 inches from running smack into a huge draft horse. Someone must have left the gate open. I was so close I literally reached out the window of my truck and touched his belly. Had I not been able to stop it would have been Draft Horse 1…Bill 0.
The only time I hit a critter, though, it wasn’t really my fault. Delivering papers again, early November and the mule deer were in full rut. I was rolling along at about 15 mph, rolling and banding papers, when I saw some movement at the side of the road and looked up just in time to see a doe run right in front of me. I managed to miss her but was totally unprepared for the WHACK that followed. She was running from a rut crazed buck who ran smack into the side of my Nissan pickup. The impact knocked him down but he quickly got up and tore off in pursuit of the doe leaving me with a cool $2000 worth of damage to my truck.
The encounter that scared me most, though, occurred this past weekend while I was driving home from Bisti Wilderness Area near Farmington, New Mexico. This whole trip I’d been aware of seeing more dead deer and antelope by the side of the road than I’ve ever seen. I nearly hit a young deer on the road to Canyonlands National Park one morning and made a mental note to be more aware. Still, there I was, flying down the highway at night, 65mph, on my way home.
A few miles west of Pagosa Springs, CO, I came flying around a curve and saw 6 or 8 deer crossing the road up ahead. I was going too fast to possibly stop before I was in their midst and remember thinking “I’m gonna smack one of these critters so I better aim for the smallest one.” I hit the brakes knowing it was too late and guided the Nitro towards the next to the last deer in line, a smallish doe. At the last instant the buck bringing up the rear of the column decided to stop….on the other side of the center line. The rest of the deer kept going and I was presented with a gap barely wide enough to guide the Nitro through. I made it through the herd without touching a single hair. Whew. Maximum pucker factor. I doubt you could have pulled a needle out of my behind with a John Deere.
At that point, the little man in my head delivered a message: “Bill, you should probably stop and rent a hotel room, take a hot shower, and relax.” I did just that and made it home the next day without incident.
So be careful out there…you never know what’s around the next bend.