Of all the years I've been driving in Montana, I've never hit a deer or any other large mammal. I've hit some squirrels and I've hit some birds, but never anything larger. I haven't even been in a vehicle as a passenger in a car vs. deer accident. My brother Ben, amazingly enough, has never hit any large mammals in Montana, or for that matter, any where else in the world. I don't know how we've managed to prevent that from happening. I've probably jinxed us.
My Uncle Stan had a job for years that had him driving to every corner of Montana. He put crazy miles on his cars in those years. (Ben and I have guessed at about 60,000 miles a year. I'll have to confirm that...) Not once in all that time, did he hit a deer. That is amazing. Even though he never had "deer on the grill," Stan did develop a philosophy about hitting animals. After watching another motorist in front of him swerve to miss a couple of elk then go into the ditch and roll, Stan figured it was best to keep the vehicle going straight down the road. In the event of an immanent collision with a large four legged critter (or even a small one) never, ever swerve to miss it. Chances are, you will hit it straight on, but you won't go in the ditch. Going straight keeps you in control and keeps the vehicle moving properly down the road. I've always adhered to that advice, in my head. Never had to use it, luckily.
On our last trip to Montana to tech scout locations and discuss camera angles, Doug Hostetter and I had lots of time to talk as we drove from one location to the next. Our talks in the car are always productive, mostly. We tend to laugh a lot and talk about our time working for a small time production company in Montana, among other things film related. This trip, I mentioned to him my Uncle Stan's Anti-Swerve Philosophy. Doug cracked up, but figured it was a good idea, but not first with out some convincing. We debated the subject for miles and I managed to set him straight. I had no idea he was going to use the philosophy on this trip!
Doug's truck before the collision.
We left Missoula on Tuesday evening arriving at our first location to take in the strange light filtering through the smoke from the Rock Creek Fire A.K.A. the 124 fire. The rays of sun filtered through the smoke creating this magical and mysterious light that was orange. Interesting, but alarming since we'd be shooting in that very spot. Hope the smoke clears! We then got to two other locations and headed to Lincoln to sack out in a little hotel. (And yes, we got two beds, just to silence the rumors.)
Wednesday, we finally got on the road after a comical search for espresso. The lone espresso stand in Lincoln was closed. We drank "gourmet" coffee from the gas station and a fresh donut to dunk. Being a coffee snob from Seattle is hard in the smaller towns of Montana. I'm sure they'll just laugh at us when we go back to shoot, packing our own coffee and french presses.
Our first stop for the day was Pendroy to walk through shots and check in with our local contacts. Everyone in Pendroy is super nice, helpful and willing to work with us. Very refreshing from a locations stand point. Next stop was Conrad to scout the Home Cafe, the location for the cafe scene. Scott is the owner of the cafe. He has the same eager personality as everyone in Pendroy. My next stop was to talk with the police and city hall to get the okay to hold parking spots on Main Street and to block the sidewalk with gear on the shoot day. You gotta love one stop shopping. I hit city hall and in 10 minutes, talked with everyone that cared to know about our production. With all that complete, we started back for Missoula.
Doug in the Home Cafe, Conrad, Montana
We were making good time. The sun was setting behind a cloud of smoke making the westward travel pretty easy. Temperatures were getting back to normal in the evening and we were enjoying the drive. We had one side trip to make back to one of the locations to confirm drive time and mileage from Conrad. Just as we rounded a bend, out of the left bank came a deer. She tried leaping over the road, but Doug's truck caught her hind quarters. Pieces of the truck flew like shrapnel from a grenade. The loud thump was, well, loud. Doug didn't even have time to swear.
Through all of this, Doug remained calm and stayed his course, adhering smartly to Uncle Stan's advice. The truck didn't fare too well and neither did the poor deer. We pulled over immediately to look over the damage. Bent metal, broken plastic, a missing marker light, a head light pointing wildly out of true and some deer fur lodged into the cracked grill were all we had. Not bad, but I figured at least $2500-3000 worth of damage. Dang.
So that is one for the Deer. Doug's other incident with a moving car and a deer happend last year on a rainy night on I-90 west of Spokane. Doug plowed right into that sucker, but it hardly made a dent. Luckily, in both cases, Doug was OK and walked away with just a good story to tell.
The word from the auto body joint is that Doug's truck will cost about $3500 bucks to fix. I made a pretty good guess. Good thing Doug has good insurance.
Now, I'm not sure how he's gonna get those points back from the deer...