Looking back, Steve Rybak doesn’t like to say he hit a deer. He likes to say the deer hit him. It didn’t happen on a dirt or winding back road. Instead, it was on a highway.
“I don’t remember what highway it was, but I was on my way to picking up my parents at Dulles International Airport,” said Rybak. “It was right when we right after we moved to Maryland.” He said that it was around 10 p.m. and that the speed limit was around 45 mph.
“I think that was the speed limit so I was at least going that fast,” said Rybak. “Then all the sudden the deer hit my left side. It came out of nowhere.”
Maryland has a high deer population and a high number of deer-automobile collisions. Trying to control the amount of deer in Maryland should be a priority.
There were other cars on the road so Rybak couldn’t stop right away, but when he did he said that he couldn’t open his door.
“I had to get out of the passenger side door, and when I walked over to the left side it was so gross,” Rybak said. “There was blood everywhere and fur all in the cracks of my hood and five or six holes in my roof from the antlers. My left light wasn’t even a light anymore. It was just hanging there so I just kind of pushed it back in there.”
Rybak’s car was in bad shape, but he still continued to the airport to pick up his parents.
“The best part about picking up my parents with a car covered in blood was that it was Halloween night,” Rybak said. “My mom looked mortified.” Not everyone who hits deer can look at the situation with the same amount of optimism.
“I just think it’s a funny story now,” said Rybak. “I mean, who hits a deer on a four-lane highway?”
The deer population in Maryland reached its peak at 292,000 in 2002, but has declined ever since according to the most recent reports from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, or DNR. In Maryland, 223,000 deer were the estimated population for 2012-2013.
The DNR assesses deer population through a number of ways. It collects data from field observations, population models, deer harvest trends and examinations of deer at butcher shops.
“We go to butcher shops and age and sex deer,” said DNR Deer Project Leader Brian Eyler.
The deer hunting season in the state of Maryland runs from the beginning of September to the end of January. In the year 2012-2013, 87,541 deer were hunted.
Of these deer, 7,940 were hunted outside of the regular deer season with crop damage permits.
“They are issued to farmers growing commercial crops,” Eyler said. This allows the farmers to legally hunt deer year round if deer are causing crop damage.
“Some farms that have an uncontrolled amount of deer, they have a thing called crop damage license,” said local hunter Joe Shaffer. “This means you can hunt the deer year round.”
Shaffer said he plans to apply for the permit to hunt on a dairy farm’s crop field. Shaffer only hunts with a bow.
“Never have shot a deer with a gun,” he said.
Shaffer also believes in controlling the deer population through hunting.
“I definitely think it’s necessary to control the population of deer in Maryland,” he said. “Deer aren’t just a driving hazard.”
“Sika deer are also a big reason for our wetlands being what they are from them eating all the bay grasses,” Shaffer said. Sika deer are a smaller, darker and spotted deer that live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, but are native to Japan, said Brian Eyler. According to DNR reports, 2,412 sika deer were harvested in 2012-2013.
In 2012-2013, 12,945 car accidents involving deer were reported by the DNR in the state of Maryland. However, Brian Eyler said the totals are probably much higher than the recorded numbers show. He said State Farm Insurance estimates that about 30,000 accidents involving deer occurred within that time period.
State Farm had calculated the probability of drivers in Maryland getting into a car accident with deer for 2012-2013. Maryland driver’s had a 1 in 123.21 chance, or .8 percent, of a collision with a deer. Maryland ranked 18th most likely across all states.
Local hunter Joe Shaffer said that some laws are in place to prevent hunters from hunting too close to roadways.
“If you leave deer along the road, they are most certain to walk in the road,” he said.
“During their mating season, a deer averages 10 miles of walking,” Shaffer said. “This means it is more likely to walk across more roads.”
More deer on the roads means more collisions. These accidents kill animals that could be valuable food resources.
On a late October evening in 2011, Sandra Webb was driving home from the Wendy’s in Hunt Valley, Md. She had just bought dinner to go that consisted of a chicken sandwich, fries and a Frosty. She was more than halfway home, only a few miles away.
After passing through the intersection of Falls Road and Tufton Avenue, an adult deer ran into the driver-side, front wheel well of her 2004 blue Ford Mustang. Webb said she was more shaken up by this experience than by a car-on-car accident.
“I didn’t eat my dinner I was so scared,” Webb said.
The car only suffered damage to the front-left quarter panel, headlight and bumper not harming the interior or the engine, Webb said. But the damage was enough to affect the frame.
She pulled over to the side farther down the road to assess the damage.
“I couldn’t get out of the door,” Webb said. The driver-side door was wedged shut because of the damage to the quarter panel. After she realized the car was running fine, she finished the journey home.
“I was more shook up than when I got hit head on,” Webb said. Her mother, her father and her sister all came by the house that night to console her.
The car had to be towed away from her house in order to be fixed. She said her State Farm Insurance covered the damages, which ended up being about $1,000. As for the deer, she said, “It was dead.”
The shock and surprise of the accident has made her more aware of her surroundings while driving.
“I do watch out for deer more,” Webb said. “I notice dead deer in that spot.” She also said that she spots deer standing by the road more often as well.
Webb never did get to enjoy that Frosty or chicken sandwich in her state of distress. She was freaked out by the collision of an adult deer and her Ford Mustang.
“I didn’t even see it coming,” she said.
In September of 1997, Rick Wilson didn’t see his life-changing business venture coming either. He founded Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, a Christian-based ministry that uses deer meat to feed the hungry. It all began on his way to go hunting with friends in Virginia, he spotted a woman on the side of the road with her trunk open and struggling to hoist a dead deer into her car. Wilson stopped, asked the woman if she hit the deer and whether or not she was alright. After finding out that she didn’t hit the deer, Wilson warned her that she could be issued a citation for transporting an untagged deer.
The woman didn’t care because her husband had left and she and her children were starving. Swayed by emotion, Wilson helped her load the deer into her trunk and as the woman drove off he said he had “just looked into the eyes of Jesus.”
The organization seeks the aid of deer hunters. They ask for donations of hunted deer to be given to participating local butchers. Rick Wilson’s son, Program and Development Director of the group Matt Wilson, said that one deer can provide 200 meals for hungry individuals.
Matt Wilson said an average deer weighs about 100 lbs, half of that being consumable meat. Breaking down the remaining 50 lbs into quarter-pound servings, he said, leaves 200 meals for those in need.
The organization does most of its work advertizing for support and donations, of money or deer, to the company, as well as organizing local coordinators and participating butchers. The group will pay the processing fee, about $55, for butchering a deer if the donor is unable to do so, said Matt Wilson.
The ministry does not own or run any butcher shops. They simply “approach local butchers” for support, Wilson said. Almost all of the process happens at the local level, even when it comes to the dispersion of the meat.
“We leave it up to the butcher,” Wilson said.
One participating butcher shop in Carroll County is C & L Deer Processing. Bill Campbell and Jack Leister opened the Hampstead shop in 1999.
“We found a butcher shop that was empty,” Leister said. “I think it was opportunity knocking.”
Almost all of the donated deer that find their way to C & L eventually end up at Carroll County Food Sunday, a non-profit organization that helps members of the community that are struggling with food income.
“We need to take care of people in our backyard,” Leister said. About 7,000 to 9,000 lbs of donated deer meat made its way through C & L this past year, he said.
Another butcher shop, the largest deer harvester in Baltimore County, B & T Deer Processing, is also affiliated with the organization. Owner Mark Balsamo said since opening his shop 12 years ago, he has received about 120 deer each year, and in 2013 he harvested 4,000 lbs of deer meat.
“I give the meat to five churches in the Essex area.” said Balsamo. “I rotate which church I go to so everyone gets the same opportunity and everyone gets the same meat.”
Though the organization does not have an official affiliation with a specific church or religion, Director Matt Wilson said the company is a type of “Christian-based ministry” that does work with a lot of Christians and Christian churches.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food…inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me,” says Matthew 25:35-40 (The Gideons International Bible). That is the message of Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry.
These deer help to feed the needy a cause anyone can support.
The way the organization deals with the deer population by feeding the hungry provides a straightforward solution to both problems.
Twelve years ago Rick Ellis was dedicated to the Fellowship of Christian Bow Hunters while also supervising a related youth camp, but when both started to decline in participants he started to look for something else to occupy his time.
When a friend of his, a butcher in Baltimore County, suggested that he would be a great match for Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, Ellis decided to give it a try. After only being involved with the organization for a couple of weeks, Rick Ellis was voted to be part of the Board of Directors for Baltimore, Harford, Howard and Carroll County.
“When the Lord is in it, everyone is in agreement,” said Ellis. “I was quite shocked it happened so fast, but it’s good.”
Twelve years later, Ellis is still on the board of directors for the ministry and is impressed with how much the organization has expanded.
“The first year we had about 14 deer and only two butchers,” said Ellis. “Now we receive around 13,000 deer and have eight participating shops.”
Although the counties that Ellis directs receive the largest amount of deer meat out of the entire state of Maryland, some food banks would still usually run out of meat by March. Ellis helped convince Maryland to give the organization a grant that would enable them to accept crop-damaged deer.
“Now we can take deer out of season and all year long,” said Ellis.
He realizes that the deer population has gone down, but not enough.
“The numbers have gone down and we’re getting control over it,” said Ellis. “People just don’t know, they don’t know the ministry is working like this.”
Ellis is an active hunter, but doesn’t get out as much as he would like. He admires the few hunters who bring in 30 deer a season and is trying to increase that number.
“We need to encourage people to hunt more and take more deer,” said Ellis. “I understand it’s a busy world out there, but there are still a lot of deer.”
When Ellis visits his relatives that live near Gunpowder Falls Park in Maryland he says that it’s evident that there is still a lot of work to be done regarding the overpopulation of deer.
“If you want evidence of deer damage just go by any state park,” said Ellis. “You can see forever because all the vegetation has been eaten. All the nesting for songbirds is destroyed. Even squirrel numbers are down because they eat all the acorns. State parks are just deer parks now.”
Although he is still bewildered with the amount of deer that still exist in the counties he directs, he knows the methods of the ministry are the most efficient.
“Hunting is the effective way,” said Ellis. “It’s been proven over and over again.”