How to deal with deer

How to Deal with Deer on Your Wild Homestead

Do you have a hard time dealing with deer on your wild homestead? Deer can cause lots of problems on your wild homestead. But there are a number of things you can do to deal with deer. Let’s dive into the options for dealing with deer.

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Deer can really be a pain—on my own wild homestead, I’ve been struggling to deal with deer since we bought this property in 2016.

Over that time, I have learned a lot about how to deal with deer.

By applying hard-earned lessons, I’ve managed to get ahead of the deer. And the result has been an explosion of abundance of life.

It turns out that keeping deer out can actually result in more wildlife on your wild homestead.

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But keeping deer out isn’t always easy—especially if you can’t afford to install a deer fence around your entire property.

While fencing is always the most direct way to keep deer out, there are some other methods you can use.

Let’s dive into these methods so you can start dealing with deer on your wild homestead.

But before you do, be sure to download your free and easy-to-print cheat sheet, which summarizes the pros and cons of all these strategies and the key observations to help you choose the strategy that’s right for you.

Understanding Deer in Your Area

Dealing with deer can be a challenge

Deer can be creatures of habit. Taking time to observe them can help you understand their patterns.

Every May deer pressure increases dramatically on my wild homestead. This is likely due to fawns being born during this time. To this day I haven’t been able to figure out why.

But every May I have issues with deer and then by early July they generally just stop showing up. Though there’s also a smaller increase in deer pressure in the fall starting in October.

During this time, deer have broken through weak sections of my deer fence that had previously held up just fine.

I also noticed that the deer had specific routes through my property that became blocked when I put up the deer fence.

The paths of these former routes tend to be the areas with the worst deer pressure.

These observations have helped me learn which parts of my deer fence needed to be particularly strong and which sections could be more basic.

This makes it easier for me to deal with deer on my wild homestead.

If you take the time to make observations of the deer that visit your wild homestead you will be able to make a more effective plan.

Questions to Help You Deal with Deer

Here are some questions that can help you deal with deer on your wild homestead.

  1. Do the deer have set routes through your wild homestead?
  2. Is there a certain time of year that the deer tend to show up?

If the deer use specific routes through your wild homestead, you can consider setting up your fencing so the deer can still follow these routes while protecting other areas.

You should also avoid planting your fruit trees and vegetables near these routes unless you have installed adequate deer fencing.

And if you notice that deer tend to show up during certain months, you can take extra precautions during those times. This can be as simple taking extra time to inspect your fence for damaged areas or breaks.

The next sections will dive into specific strategies for dealing with deer, but keep those questions in mind and use them to help guide your decisions.

Areas where the deer commonly visit will need stronger fencing than areas they rarely visit.

One core observation I’ve made over the years is that deer don’t like to change their habits, and will resist having their routes blocked by a fence.

Strategies to Deal with Deer

Sometimes you have to deal with deer with a deer fence

This area has been a challenge to fence because of the high deer pressure. I’ve extended the existing white fence with deer mesh and then reinforced the bottom section with wires and branches. The wires were mostly effective at keeping adult deer out, but fawns and adolescent deer could still get through. This is where the branches and brush come in--they form a dense brush pile that provides habitat for other wildlife and also keep fawns out. Later I will plant a dense hedgerow along this fence to replace the branches and brush.

The common approach to deal with deer is just to fence them out of your entire property. This can work, but it’s often expensive.

But there are other strategies you can use to deal with deer. Let’s dive into all of them!

Strategy 1: Fence Your Whole Property

This strategy can be expensive and labor-intensive, but depending on your situation, it may be the only viable option for dealing with deer.


If you have an existing fence, you can turn it into a deer fence. This is what I’ve done on my wild homestead.


In some cases this is the only viable option. Like if you have sensitive plants you’re protecting all over your property. But it can also be a challenge to pull off without spending a lot of money.


You’ll often read that a deer fence needs to be 8 feet tall, with openings no greater than 1 sq ft (roughly .1 sq m). But that doesn’t account for fawns or young deer, who can squeeze through much smaller openings.


You’ll want to be particularly careful on areas that are the most prone to deer pressure.


Pros: Effective at protecting a large area

Cons: Expensive, labor-intensive

Strategy 2: Fence Individual Plants or Small Groups of Plants

You can use u-posts or t-posts and ropes/wires or mesh fencing to create simple rings around your plants. This is a great way to protect young trees and shrubs to give them time to get large enough to handle deer browse.


Here is an example of this type of fence.


Pros: Effective at protecting individual plants; relatively inexpensive.

Cons: Only protects individual plants or small planting areas; not permanent; may be considered ugly.

Strategy 3: Dense Plantings – Mix in Plants Deer Don’t Like

Another approach that can work is to plant densely and mix in plants that deer don’t like. This approach isn’t perfect, but if your deer pressure is low enough, it can be effective. For this approach, plant the outside of the growing area with deer-resistant plants, and then plant more vulnerable plants inside.


Figuring out which plants work best for you may take some experimentation.


Pros: Very low cost; no ugly fencing.

Cons: May not be effective.

Strategy 4: Fence Specific Planting Areas and Your Garden

One common strategy to deal with deer is to install a regular deer fence around specific planting areas or a garden. This sort of fencing is often permanent and can fully protect your garden or other growing areas.


Here is gallery showing some examples of this strategy.


Pros: Effective at protecting specific growing areas; cheaper than fencing your entire property.

Cons: Can still be expensive depending on the size of the area being fenced; only protects parts of your property; may be considered ugly.

Strategy 5: Use Branches and Brush Rings

This is very similar to strategy 2 but instead of fencing, it uses branches and brush to create a protective ring around your plants. You will want branches that are big enough to have a core branch with smaller branches growing out from it.


The smaller branches should overlap so you end up with a fairly dense ring around your plants. The space inside the ring can’t be very large or the deer will just jump or walk through it.


This strategy is most effective at protecting small groupings of plants or individual trees and shrubs.


While this strategy can work if your deer pressure is low enough, it will only protect relatively small areas.


Though this can be used to direct deer away from certain areas by making it harder for them to move through these areas. Deer will often choose an easier path over a harder one if an easier path exists.


Pros: Low or no extra cost; provides habitat for other wildlife; good use of prunings.

Cons: May not be effective.

Strategy 6: Plant a hedgerow

Hedgerows can be effective at keeping deer out of certain areas. But they have to be very dense to work. This means that you will likely need to install a temporary fence around the hedgerow to give it time to get established.


But a hedgerow can be planted along an existing deer fence to add extra protection. Plus a hedgerow can hide your deer fence from view.


Pros: Can be beautiful; can provide a harvest; relatively low cost.

Cons: Takes time to get established; requires a secondary fence until established.

All of these strategies can be used to deal with deer on your wild homestead. You may even want to use a mix of them.

One strategy not listed here is the use of repellants. But repellants can be effective over a short time period.

If you notice extra deer pressure during specific times of the year you can try adding repellants during these times for extra protection.

Here are some options for deer repellants.

Final Thoughts on How to Deal with Deer

A deer jumping through a fence

Sometimes even a fence isn’t enough (pic from 2018). I’ve had deer jump through my fences more than once. Because of this I’ve strengthen several sections and replaced simple wire fences with more solid fences.

When dealing with deer you will need to be patient. While all the strategies covered here can and do work, they’re not 100% effective.

Even an expensive 8-foot-tall fence may not be 100% effective.

But combining strategies can be very effective. I’m slowly planting hedgerows all along my deer fences.

A fence and a hedgerow should keep the deer out permanently. But this takes time and I will likely be dealing with deer for the next 5+ years until the hedgerows are all planted.

If you have the money, a deer fence is likely your best option. But don’t forget that deer often go under fences if they can. So make sure to secure the base of any fence you build.

Also, don’t forget that young deer and especially fawns can get through much smaller openings. The fawn’s mom will likely break through your fence if her fawn gets in and can’t easily get back out.

Finally, when installing your deer fence, don’t exclude all other wildlife. Consider building culvert style tunnels under it in different spots to let other animals come and go.

If the tunnels are long enough—at least 3.5 feet or 1 meter—the deer shouldn’t go through them. I have seen coyotes using my tunnels but so far deer haven’t. The coyotes help keep the vole population under control.

While it may seem strange to keep deer out as a wild homesteader, you may have no choice if you want to create an abundant wild homestead.

Because of the lack of predators deer populations are greater than they were historically, which is having a negative impact on habitat all over the world in temperate climates—here is a great Ted Talk about an example of this in Scotland.

Finding a way to deal with deer may be the best thing you can do to cultivate abundance for people, plants and animals.

How are you dealing with deer on your wild homestead? Have you used any of these strategies? Please share your experience in the comments below.

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Daron

Daron is a restoration ecologist, a lifelong gardener, and the founder of Wild Homesteading. He manages the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he applies restoration and sustainable gardening techniques on his family’s own wild homestead. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children. In addition, to running this site Daron manages the restoration program for a local non-profit and is a husband to an amazing wife who makes this site and the homestead possible and daddy to 2 perfect kids.

  • Jay says:

    I have a friend with a male standard poodle whom she prunes a couple times a year. Handfuls of the discarded fur clipped to or stuck through fencing at deer nose help seems to discourage deer from testing the fence.
    I recommend that if you want to install a fence ring around a young tree that you tie the fencing to the t-bars with bows so you can easily untie to weed around the tree.

    • Daron says:

      Good suggestion! Interesting what sort of deterrents can work for deer. Great suggestion about the fence ring. I didn’t do that with mine and yeah it was a pain to take them down! Thanks again!

  • Josh says:

    Wolves would be the best answer… 😉

    But in all seriousness, I have had some luck with the Irish Spring Soap method.

    I have also thought (but never tried) using some type of cattle guard to limit where deer can go. This could be as simple as a 8′ band of large rocks which are difficult for hooved animals to cross

    • Daron says:

      Yeah, if wolves and other large predators were still around that would help a lot! But I doubt they will be coming back anytime soon in most areas.

      Do you think the Irish Spring Soap method can work over a larger area? Or just for more specific spots? I’ve never tried it myself but I’ve heard good things about it.

      That would be interesting to try large rocks. I’ve used logs like that and they can work to fill in gaps in a hedgerow. Be interesting to try!

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Huckleberry says:

    Daron,
    You said it above…If wolves…were still around!
    I have used Great Pyrennees LGD’s for over 7 years and have never had predations from deer or elk in my many orchard plantings though surrounded by thousands of wild forestland. The dogs keep away coyotes and cougar as well and do not eat the poultry. And best of all they are snuggly,sweet, large, huggable creatures that will shower you with love and devotion. No waiting 7 years for growth without protection nor expensive fencing projects

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