New Jersey is about to enter the peak of the deer breeding season, or the "rut," and drivers are being warned to be especially cautious as the animals congregate near the Garden State's many roadways.

We have the densest network of roads in the country, according to Kathleen Kerwin, program associate with the Wildlife Conservation and Management Program at the Rutgers-New Brunswick Agricultural Experiment Station.

And because wildlife naturally has to move around to avoid those paved areas, animals often find themselves on roadsides and in shoulders — and not just one at a time.

"Deer oftentimes move in herds, so if you see one deer, there's probably more nearby, so just keep that in mind," Kerwin said.

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Drivers should be their most attentive during dawn and dusk, when the deer tend to be most active.

The usual pieces of advice all apply: Take it slow, don't tailgate other drivers in case they are the ones stopping short, use high beams when appropriate and possible, and if a collision is unavoidable, don't swerve.

The last of those is a natural response, but Kerwin said it is the action that leads to most serious crashes, with a driver avoiding the animal but potentially hitting another car or a tree.

"Stay calm, take control of your wheel, and just stay in your lane," she said. "It's actually safer to hit the deer than it is to try and swerve around it."

And if you do hit a deer or other animal? If you are able, pull over, and then pull out your phone.

"An injured animal is going to be in shock and is going to be potentially dangerous if you go up to it, so the best thing is to just call the authorities and let them handle the situation," Kerwin said.

The rutting season in New Jersey is generally October through December, with the peak of vehicle incidents in November, when the rate of crashes doubles that of January through September.

Still, the state's considerable volume of deer is not in particular danger.

"Colliding with deer and killing deer that way is not going to affect their population but for some other, more vulnerable populations like certain species of turtles that can't move very quickly, road mortalities are a big deal," Kerwin said.

AAA Mid-Atlantic statistics from the 2018 deer rut showed that the top five New Jersey counties for deer-related crashes were, in order, Monmouth, Burlington, Somerset, Middlesex, and Ocean, with one crash every 25 minutes from October through December.

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