November Is ‘Deer Season,’ and Your Airplane Could Get Bagged, Too

A student-pilot friend recently asked if I thought my airport would be a good destination for one of his night cross-country trips. The first concern that came to my mind was the prospect of hitting a deer. We have a Pilatus PC-12 owner-operator at my small, nontower airport, and he's told me he won't land there after dark for fear of tangling with Bambi. He lands at the larger, nearby airport that has lots of lights and a tower, and then he takes a cab home.

November can be hazardous for night landings at rural airports for a few reasons. First, during the fall mating season, bucks and does are keenly focused on their romantic pursuits, causing them to pay little attention to distractions, such as speeding cars or airplanes descending into their midst. And second, dark runways absorb heat from the sun and retain that heat long after dark. Deer and other animals like to warm themselves on the tarmac as long as it stays warmer than the dark woods. They also become bolder and less fearful of exposure to open space than they are during daylight hours.

Before a night takeoff, you might want to make a fast taxi run down the runway first to let any interlopers know that you need to use their space for a minute or two. When a night landing is in the flight plan at an airport where this might be a concern, some pilots make a low pass down the runway for the same reason. At the very least, it pays to be aware of the possibility of a wildlife encounter. One more reason to always be prepared for a go-around at the last second.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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