Everyone in Texas knows you’re supposed to look for deer when you’re driving on country roads, especially at dawn or dusk.
What no one ever explains, though, is what you’re supposed do if you see one, it spooks, and then heads directly into the path of your oncoming vehicle.
But I’ll tell you: Nothing. There’s nothing you can do when that happens, but hold on and wait for impact. And it’s horrible.
That happened to me early Sunday, as my husband and I rolled down Texas Highway 608, on our way from my stepmom’s ranch near Roscoe – Wind Farm Capitol of Texas – to Austin, where he had an early morning flight to catch and I had to pack for a research trip.
It was 5:30 a.m., and the darkness felt like a blanket outside. We both said out loud to each other, as all Texans do, “Watch out for deer.” All around us, red lights attached to the slowly spinning blades of skyscraper-sized wind turbines blinked on and off, like the glowing eyes of giants. Other than that, nothingness.
Again, we mentioned the deer. You never knew when one might spring out. I’ve slammed on the brakes and narrowly missed hitting one at least a dozen times. I stayed vigilant, looking for critters, as Chris drove.
He saw it first. The headlights of our silver F150 pickup truck just caught the outline of a large white-tail buck, standing near the side of the unspooling, two-lane road.
He cussed (Chris, that is.) I folded myself in half in the shotgun seat. I couldn’t watch. The deer was just standing there, but I had a bad feeling, and sure enough it charged right into the road in front of us.
The impact was terrible, a sound I’ve often imagined I’d hear; the animal slammed the truck so hard it ricocheted backward, somewhere into an inky field of grass.
We limped to a halt half a mile down the road. Something in the truck was grinding or brushing or rubbing. And the sun hadn’t started to rise, so we couldn’t see where the deer had gone. Even if we found it, we had no way to put it out of its misery.
And now, the same truck I’d trashed three weeks earlier, when another truck kicked up a baseball-sized rock and launched it into the roof of our truck, slicing it open like a cheap tin of green beans, was trashed again.
We squatted on the side of the road as Chris pried off pieces of plastic and metal to clear the wheel well so we could drive again. It took 20 minutes, and I felt terrible for the deer.
It was dead, I was sure. I’m not a hunter, but at least when a hunter shoots a white-tail the animal gets used for food.
We made it to the next town, duct-taped the headlight securely into place, noted the damage – smashed door, bumper, hood and headlamp, and headed again toward home.
I said a few words for the deer in my mind, and reminded myself to keep an eye out for its brethren.
But I’m still not sure what to do if another one aims for us.