by Mike Miller
When I was a boy, it wasn’t uncommon for the whole family to jump in the car and take a Sunday afternoon drive through the back roads of Kiowa County. While it was a way to relax and see the countryside for the rest of the family, my goal was to see wildlife. I was specifically looking for pheasants and scouting for the coming fall hunting season. As I got older and began hunting with high school friends, we always had a running competition to see who would be first to spot wildlife. Unfortunately, one of my friends had eyes like an eagle, and he usually won, but I kept trying.
I believe my habit of keeping an eye out for wildlife has helped me avoid countless vehicle collisions. I’ve had some close calls, but I’ve never hit a deer or other large critter while driving. I’m always scanning the roadsides ahead, pointing out any deer, turkeys, pheasants, or other wildlife I see to my wife, who humors me and pretends to be pleased with my sightings.
Watching for wildlife is a good habit to learn. While I’m sure my vision has probably deteriorated some, my ability to see wildlife has actually improved. I’ve learned that it wasn’t as much my friend’s 20/15 vision that helped him spot critters as it was his technique. He saw color, movement or reflection, and focusing in on that spot often revealed an animal. I’ve also learned to be extra-alert in certain areas such as stream crossings, tree lines, feed fields and water sources. And I know if I see deer in an area, I’ll likely see deer there again.
At night, I use my bright lights as much as possible. Headlamps on recent model vehicles provide an amazing amount of peripheral light along the road ahead. Deer eyes are highly reflective, especially if you have your brights on. If I see even the tiniest glint of a reflection, I let off the gas, slow down and scan the area more carefully.
I have no doubt that my wildlife watching habit has also helped me avoid accidents with other vehicles. You have to scan far ahead if you want to be first to spot a critter, and this habit gives me more time to react if I see a problem.
Try it next time you drive. Propose a friendly wildlife spotting competition with whoever is in the car with you. Not only will you be more alert, you’ll likely avoid an accident and keep wildlife alive. A dead critter on the shoulder is such a waste. And besides, watching for and keeping track of the wildlife you see will make any long drive go by more quickly.
Mike Miller is Chief of the Information Production Section for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks