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What Do Acorns Have To Do With Deer Hunting And Car Crashes?

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It’s breeding time for deer in Connecticut, which means biologists and hunters are paying close attention to two things: car collisions and acorns.

Mating time means more deer on the move—crossing roads and highways.

Andrew Labonte, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said that makes November and December a peak time for roadkills.

“They’re just pursuing the female—and they go wherever she goes,” he said.

In 2000, there were about 18,000 deer-vehicle collisions. That’s a lot. Since then, especially on the shoreline and in Fairfield County, the state has worked to reduce that number by allowing more hunting, and making it easier for hunters to attract the deer.

2015 even saw the introduction of bowhunting on Sundays.

“We’ve been adding a lot of these tools to the toolbox that allow us to manage these populations that had been out of control,” Labonte said.

In fact, every year since 2009, it’s been hunters—not cars and trucks—that kill the most deer.

Then there are acorns, which is a favorite food of deer in fall and winter.

“When there’s a lot of acorns out there, hunter success tends to go down. And when there’s a very sparse amount of acorns, hunter success tends to go up,” Labonte said.

That’s because fewer acorns mean deer travel and forage more, increasing the odds they’ll come across a hunter.

Weather plays a role, too. When it’s rainy, fewer people go out to hunt. Still, Labonte said relatively high acorn counts in the last two years did reflect reduced hunter kill rates.

But this year may be different. In eastern Connecticut, where gypsy moths damaged a lot of trees this year—Labonte said potentially low acorn numbers could be a boon this hunting season.

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative, eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter at WNPR. He covers science and the environment. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of WNPR's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.