By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

The bewitching hour is behind us.

Now, all we have to worry about is the even greater danger lurking on the state's dark roads.

That danger comes in the form of the state's deer herd, and there's a 1-in-172 chance that a motorist driving down Kansas highways and byways will meet up with a deer as it crosses the road.

No road is safe, especially this time of year, as the annual rut gets under way in earnest.

That's when deer are the most dangerous, rushing headlong onto a highway, often right into the path of an oncoming motorist.

Deer accidents in 2009 were up slightly compared to earlier years, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.

State Farm Insurance, however, suggests the numbers might be even higher, perhaps as many as 11,747. With slightly more than 2 million drivers in the state, that's a 1-in-172 chance of colliding with a deer over the next 12 months.

Two years earlier, State Farm put the odds at 1-in-211.

Surprisingly, that's not so high, even though it's enough to put Kansas as a medium risk state.

But West Virginia drivers, for example, have a 1-in-42 chance of hitting a deer. Iowa motorists have a 1-in-67 chance.

Three people died in accidents with deer, KDOT reported, while another 288 were injured.

"Any accident is too many," said Lloyd Fox, big game coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

In that position, he keeps close tabs on the number of deer accidents in the state as a measure of where the deer population might stand. It's also a barometer of how the public views the state's deer herd.

Hunters want more deer, he's quick to say, and motorists want fewer.

Overall, he said the trend has remained relatively level for a long time.

"We're holding the deer population relatively stable," Fox said of what the accident numbers mean.

That's not to say, however, that he wouldn't like to see a few more antlerless deer permits sold each year. KDWP has taken steps to do just that, making it a bit easier to get those types of permits.

Accidents with deer are a big deal, said Dick Luedke, a spokesman for State Farm.

Nationally, they cause about $3.5 billion in damages nationally, he said.

And that doesn't account for the deductible that vehicle owners have to cough up to get the repairs made.

That pushes the damage total close to $3.8 billion, he said.