It is a scene Islanders know all too well, driving down a dark road at night when out of nowhere the headlights reflect a pair of startled eyes. Often there is no time to react before car and deer collide.

This scenario is becoming more and more common as the Island deer population continues to rise.

In 2019, the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office communications center logged 332 reports of deer struck by cars around the Island. The numbers have more than doubled since 2014, when there were 165 reports of deer collisions — an unprecedented number at the time.

“There has definitely been an increase,” said Major Susan Schofield, director of the communications center, based on her 22 years of experience in the dispatch field. “At least on the average, I would say we get one or two calls a day.”

Major Schofield said the numbers could be higher if unreported deer accidents were taken into account. Although a precise scientific deer count on the Island has never been done, an estimate by the state a few years ago put the number at around 50 deer per square mile. Statewide management goals for a healthy deer population ranges between six to 18 deer per square mile. Without any natural predators on the Island, hunters and cars are the main forms of population control.

Island police said they have become accustomed to responding to deer accidents. Some said they were more worried about the potential for injury caused by maneuvering to avoid a deer than actually hitting the deer itself. A few officers said they have had personal experiences with hitting a deer while off-duty, dispatching their own colleagues to respond.

“In my 25 years in the field, I’ve seen deer cause significant car accidents with significant injuries,” said Edgartown police chief Bruce McNamee. “Most of the physical injuries were attempts to avoid striking the deer, veering off the road.”

Edgartown reported 100 deer related car accidents in 2019, the most of any town on the Island. West Tisbury was a close second at 84, followed by Chilmark at 74 and Oak Bluffs reporting 43. The fewest number of deer related accidents occurred in Vineyard Haven and Aquinnah, reporting 15 and 16 incidents, respectively.

Hunting season sees the highest number of collisions.

In addition to the potential for human and deer injury, a collision triggers a cascading effect that ripples into an array of different businesses and town departments. It is a boon to local mechanics, who have adapted to specialize in front end damage caused by deer collisions. But it strains police and highway departments, tasked with cleaning up glass from broken windshields and determining what to do with the animal carcass.

“Through the course of the year, 30 per cent of our business is because of deer. And that’s low-balling it,” said Angel Figueroa, owner of Angel’s Auto Body, the only certified body shop on the Island. “A small accident doesn’t look bad until you pull [the car] apart and realize there’s a lot more damage than meets the eye.”

“We’ve seen deer accidents at low speed, high speed and we’ve seen deer run into cars at no speed,” Mr. Figueroa said, adding that typical repairs cost between $500 and $6,000, if the car isn’t totaled by the damage. “There are a lot of them out here.”

Most police and highway departments run what is called a “road kill list,” in which recently killed deer deemed healthy for consumption are distributed to people in the community. But more often than not, the deer have been injured to the point where they are no longer edible, or have been exposed to the elements for so long the meat has spoiled. Town highway departments have been struggling to discard the spoiled carcasses.

Police said that the Island is pockmarked with unofficial refuse pits. Edgartown highway department superintendent Allan DeBettencourt said his department hauls the deer to the closet town-owned forest and lets nature take its course. Oak Bluffs highway department superintendent Richard Combra said his department bags the carcasses and disposes of them at the local garbage dump.

“We really need to find a better way of doing it,” he said, adding that he has been in communication with other town departments about buying an incinerator, specifically for the purpose of disposing of deer.

“It’s an Island-wide issue,” Mr. Combra said.