Coexisting with Deer


The following topics will be discussed on this page:

  • How to garden in deer country:  a listing of deer preferred and deer resistant plants.
  • Repellents
  • Scare devices
  • Fencing
  • Deer and Lyme disease
  • Tips to avoid deer-vehicle collisions
  • Deer populations and "mamagement" methods


More and more of the environment is being engulfed by urban sprawl. Some species, such as deer, adapt amazingly well to our human‑created environments. The short‑cropped lawns and tasty flowers in our suburban landscapes provide exactly the kind of succulent food that deer seek out in the "edge" habitat they prefer.

Once rarely seen, deer now abound, often achieving high densities. Some people relish the sight of a doe with fawns on their lawn, while others react with frustration at the thought of more browsed plants. All are concerned about increased levels of deer/vehicle collisions.

Controversy erupts when a cry for deer hunting goes up in communities around the country. Those who favor non‑lethal alternatives argue against taking the lives of deer. Hunters claim that they can solve the problem with bullets or arrows. Politicians form deer advisory committees in an attempt to reach consensus. Newspaper headlines report spirited debates at town meetings. The scenario is all too familiar.

The following information discusses the source of a variety of deer problems as well as misconceptions that lead to exaggerated fears about the presence of deer. This is followed by a description of various non‑lethal techniques that homeowners can use to resolve deer/human conflicts. Repellents and scare devices tend to work better for low to moderate browsing problems, yet fencing works better for more severe problems. Therefore, it is important to analyze your deer situation before choosing your deterrence plan.

How to garden in deer country

Deer taste buds vary geographically and seasonally, and are largely dependent on what alternative plants are available. Check your local garden store for information on what types of plants seem resistant in your area. You can also contact your local Cooperative Extension Service for this information. To find a Cooperative Extension specialist, see the directory for your state on the web site or call your local state university’s School of Agriculture. Many Cooperative Extension Services have web sites that give this kind of information.

Click the following links for listings of plant species that tend to be deer resistant and those that you should NEVER plant in deer country!


Repellents are products that are meant to disrupt and reduce deer browsing. However, deer are very adaptable and may vary their taste preferences. Therefore, the effectiveness of repellents will vary and will depend on a number of factors:

  • Seasonal changes in plant palatability
  • Local deer taste preferences and nutritional needs
  • Availability of alternative foods
  • Time of year
  • Deer density
  • Type of repellent and concentration of active ingredients
  • Durability of the repellent and how often it is applied

Plants are most vulnerable in winter, when snow cover or extreme cold reduces food availability, and in early spring when young, succulent spring growth on ornamentals may occur before native plants. In addition, most repellents require reapplication at regular 3-4 week intervals and after heavy rains. This is why people may consider repellents to be labor‑intensive and not always cost‑effective, particularly over larger acreage. On the more positive side, repellents are easy to apply and invisible, thus having much aesthetic appeal.

Click here for tips on how to successfully use repellents to discourage deer browsing.


Scare Devices

Another way to deter deer is to scare them. However, deer tend to habituate to most scare devices over time. Their initial fear of a device that looks, moves, or sounds strangely may even result in curiosity followed by rapid habituation as the deer learns that the device is not harmful.

Scarecrow Motion Activated Sprinkler: This is a motion sensor combined with a sprinkler that attaches to a spray hose. When a deer comes into its adjustable, motion detecting range, a sharp burst of water is sprayed at the animal. By combining a physical sensation with a startling stimulus, this device appears to be more effective than other devices that rely on sights or sounds alone. This device reportedly is effective for other mammals that may come into gardens and sells for approximately $99. Purchasing information can be obtained from Weitech Company at (800) 343‑2659 or

Havahart #5250 "Electronic Deer Repellent": This highly portable "repellent" consists of 3 stake‑like devices, cotton and a scent lure and is aesthetically colored to blend into the environment. The deer are attracted to the lure and receive a mild electric shock when they reach it. The concept is to train them, through aversive conditioning, to stay away from gardens. This 3‑post device covers 1200 square feet of garden, according to the company. The current produced by this device has very low amperage and duration of only a few milliseconds. It costs $99. Look for this product in the "Electrical Repellents" section under "Deer" on the Havahart web site,, or by calling (800) 800‑1819.

Ultrasonic Devices:  There are several devices which supposedly repel wildlife by producing high-frequency, short-wave ultrasonic sounds that are inaudible to people but are heard by animals such as deer, dogs and cats.  One commonly sold "deer alert whistle" is torpedo shaped and meant to be affices to car bumpers.  How well the device works is not scientifically known.  There is anectdotal information for and against them; therefore, we are not recommending the use of these products at this time.


Fencing Options

When deer browsing is at moderate or high levels, or a landowner isn't willing to tolerate even a limited amount of browse damage, fencing to exclude deer is the only option. This will involve a more expensive initial outlay of funds, yet a well‑maintained fence should last 5‑25 years. There is a wide variety of fencing options now available.

Certain fences, such as the 8-10 foot tall woven wire fence, provide an absolute barrier since they are high enough to prevent deer from going over them and solid enough to prevent deer from going through them. However, most other fences, such as electric fences, are considered more of a "mental barrier" since they are low enough to jump yet the use of electric shock (negative stimuli) or slanted-construction (i.e illusion of a formidable fence) teaches the deer to stay away.

Full instructions for how to build or install many deer fencing options are available through the book Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage (Craven and Hygnstrom, 1994 --- see “Deer” Chapter) which is also available online via (see “Resources” for how to access this text online). You can also consult with fencing suppliers (see link below) or your local farm supplies, garden, or hardware store.

Electric Fences

Non-Electric Fences

Suppliers of Deer Fencing

Deer and Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease is spread by Ixodes scapularis, the black-legged tick. The actual disease-carrying agent is a bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi). It is carried in the bloodstream of hosts who get infected when bitten by a bacterium-carrying tick. Although the disease is transmitted entirely through tick bites, the disease can be transported to new areas by birds who carry the ticks (Anderson et al, 1984).

The Ixodes tick has a 3-stage life cycle in which the tick transforms from a larvae into a nymph and finally, into an adult. This life cycle takes 2 years to complete. At each stage, the tick attaches to a host and slowly takes a blood meal over the course of several days. A blood-engorged tick then drops off the host and molts into the next stage. For some unknown reason, the tick seems to prefer a progressively larger host moving through the larval, nymph and then adult life stages.

Although deer are a preferred host for the adult stage of the tick, they are not the only host (the term "deer tick" is a misnomer!). The black‑legged tick is carried by 49 bird species and all mammals except bats (Anderson, 1984). Therefore, the removal of one host, the white‑tailed deer, does not stop the spread of the disease. In some cases, when deer numbers have been experimentally eradicated from an area, the ticks have been noted to switch to other hosts (Duffy et al, Mannelli et al) or occur at higher densities on the remaining deer (Deblinger et al).

Click here for more information about deer and Lyme disease, and steps you can take to lower your risk of Lyme disease.

Deer/Vehicle Collisions

There are reports around the country of increasing numbers of deer/vehicle collisions. It is estimated that there are 1.5 million deer/vehicle collisions in the U.S. every year resulting in 200 human fatalities and approximately 1.4 million deer deaths (Conover et  al). Public officials frequently attribute these collisions to an increasingly large deer population, but fail to see the greater impact of more roadways being built, more people driving, and more roadways bisecting wildlife habitat and migration routes. In addition, human activities such as frequent mowing of roadsides, along with road salt use in winter, regularly attract deer to roads. Collisions are influenced by the weather, the time of year (spring and fall are peak collision times), amount of roadside shrubbery which can reduce visibility, and the palatability of roadside vegetation, among other factors.

Click here for prevention techniques and tips on how you can avoid a deer/vehicle collision.


For more information:

Click here for further resources on coexisting with deer.

Click here for a bibliography of works cited throughout these pages.