Assessing the Damage
While experiencing agricultural damage can be frustrating, it is important to know that you must use a combination of techniques to best limit the damage.
In determining which of these options best suits the needs of the person experiencing deer damage and the type of damage the farmer is experiencing, one needs to consider the following:
- Type of damage
- Timing of the damage, both time of year and time of day
- Extent of damage
- Deer population in the area
- Availability of alternate deer foods and cover
- General characteristics of the site to be protected
- Material and labor costs of the technique
- Maintenance costs
- The amount of loss that can be tolerated
Scare Devices and Techniques
Probably the simplest and least expensive method for deterring deer would involve the use of streamers, flags, aluminum pie pans, or any other device or material that either moves in the breeze or throws a reflection when illuminated by a natural or artificial light. When deer pressure is light and alternate foods and cover are readily available, the motion or reflection that is produced may be sufficient to reduce damage to tolerable levels. However, deer quickly become accustomed to the disturbance that these devices produce. These need to be moved every two or three days within the area to be protected or else their effectiveness drops rapidly. This technique is useful if the period of damage is of short duration and the value of the plants being protected is minimal. In addition, use of these can have an additive benefit of deterring additional wildlife causing the damage such as birds.
Propane cannons or exploders are another option available to property owners experiencing light to moderate deer damage. They cost approximately $350 and are available through various mail-order nursery, forestry and agricultural supply dealers. Most operate on an adjustable timer so that the frequency of discharge can be varied and some rotate so that the sound appears to move around or originate from different locations. Additionally, they operate regardless of the weather and light conditions to more effectively scare deer from the area being protected. As with streamers, however, they do require attention in that they must be moved periodically to remain effective. How often they need to be moved is best determined by monitoring the crop for evidence of continued damage.
Another technique involves the use of one or more guard dogs confined within the area to be protected by an electric wire buried just below the surface of the ground. This “invisible fence” operates like systems used by many homeowners desiring to keep the family pet in their yard. To be effective, the dog must remain within the confines of the area needing protection during the time that protection is needed. Costs for this protection will likely be higher than for other scare devices, but because the dog is mobile it is able to more effectively protect a larger area.
Properly constructed physical barriers, or fences, are intended to exclude deer from entering an area. The vast variations in fence design, which are limited only by one’s imagination, greatly influence their effectiveness in achieving this objective. Current fence designs vary from as simple as a single strand of electric wire to as elaborate as a woven, or livestock, wire fence eight feet tall. Obviously, fence design has a tremendous impact on installation and maintenance costs, as well as its life expectancy. For individuals desiring long-term protection of valuable crops such as a commercial orchard or nursery operation, the costs of an eight-foot woven wire fence can pay for itself in saved plant loss in just a few years.
On the other hand, the use of a peanut butter fence can be highly effective to protect small orchard operations even as large as 10-15 acres (see Garden Damage below).
For those interested in fencing, but whose needs fall somewhere between an elaborate eight-foot fence and a peanut butter fence there are a variety of options available. The three-wire two-dimensional fence involves the construction of two separate fences, one 38 inches inside the other. As with the single wire fence, these wires can be electrified. The outer fence consists of two wires, one set 15 inches off the ground, the other 43 inches from the ground. The inner fence has a single strand of wire set 30 inches from the ground. This fence is effective because it discourages deer from jumping the fence as they are too close for deer to easily jump each fence separately without making contact with one of the fences and far enough apart that the deer are not able to easily jump both at the same time.
Another good design is the Penn State Five-Wire Fence. With this design, the area is enclosed by five separate strands of wire. The first wire is attached to a vertical pole at a height of 10 inches from the ground. Each successive wire is positioned 12 inches above the previous one. Total height on this fence is 58 inches.
A Slanted Deer Fence can be another effective fence design, especially for vineyards. To construct this fence, vertical posts are placed no more than 60 feet apart. A rail is then attached to each post four feet from the ground so that the horizontal distance from the pole to the long end of the rail is 56 inches. The high side of the rail should be on the side furthest from the area being protected. Wires are run from rail to rail with the first wire placed 10 inches from the ground end. Successive wires are spaced at one-foot intervals.
The use of hunting affords you a free option for controlling the deer herd and should be used whenever possible. In addition, you have the ability to manage the deer on your property by allowing additional hunters to utilize the property and can even put requirements on the hunters using your property such as only allowing them to shoot female deer or requiring them to shoot a doe before a buck. Often farmers don’t realize that it takes a lot of hunters to effectively reduce a deer herd on that property.
Often times it seems that killing the deer through a deer damage permit will help solve the problem. However, one must take the following into account:
- There will always be additional deer that will come onto the property to cause additional damage
- Killing deer can be highly labor-intensive
- Deer may be causing the damage at night making killing them difficult
- Killing deer causing damage is often done during some of the hottest months of the year
- Deer damage permits are designed primarily to affect behavior, not reduce the population
Deer look for easy sources of food and gardens offer a buffet of food to them. However, oftentimes the solution to garden damage by deer is a quick and easy process. Since most gardens are relatively small, the Division of Wildlife suggests that you install a 3-4 foot barrier (vinyl, hardware cloth, etc.) with the first foot of the barrier underground to keep out small critters like raccoons, skunks and groundhogs Figure 1 shows a good garden fence. On the corners of the garden install posts that reach 7 feet off the ground. You can then run a single string or wire every 1 1/2 feet to achieve a higher barrier. Run the top line at the top of your tall corner posts. Periodically hang ribbon (or better yet aluminum pie pans to scare off the birds) to act as a visual to the deer that the lines are there. Deer have poor depth perception and they will not jump between the hard fence and the wires. In addition, the top wire appears too tall for them to want to jump over. Another option is to use the concepts of the above-mentioned fence but to utilize electric fence in its place. Figure 2 shows how you can accomplish a barrier for various wildlife causing garden damage including deer. You will notice the multiple lines of wire at the bottom act as the “solid” barrier equivalent to the vinyl/hardware cloth of the above-mentioned fence. Maintenance with an electric fence is a must to ensure that the grass beneath the wires does not touch the wires. Contact between the two will cause the fence to no longer work. Electric fence also allows you the ability to turn on or to turn off the charge depending on the activities in the yard. You can even place a timer to allow the fence to be active from dusk to dawn coordinating with the primary times when deer are moving around looking for a bite to eat. Fencing in your garden with a good fence can help achieve zero loss without requiring the use of lethal control.
Deer looking for a bite to eat will often find your landscaping a palatable option. A great tool to use is the “peanut butter fence” technique (Figures 3 and 4) to keep deer off of the plants you work so hard to maintain. The “peanut butter fence” is an electric fence wire strung about 2 ½ feet off of the ground with a piece of foil or aluminum flashing wrapped over the line with peanut butter smeared on it. When the deer approaches the landscaping, the smell of the peanut butter attracts the deer to lick it thereby giving a non-lethal shock to the deer on their tongue. Simply using an electric fence wire without the peanut butter “flags” will typically not work since the hair on deer is hollow thereby acting as an insulator for the deer and not allowing the shock to be fully felt. As soon as the deer start eating a particular plant (or better yet in anticipation as particular plants begin to grow), install the “peanut butter fence” around that section of landscaping. Because various plants will grow/bloom at different times of the year, you will need to move the “peanut butter fence” to the area the deer are browsing at that particular time of year. The parts for this technique can usually be purchased at farm supply stores such as Tractor Supply Company or online. If you are putting this up as a permanent barrier it is suggested to use three lines as shown in Figure 5.
Another technique is to use various sprays to deter the deer from eating your plants. Keep in mind that if a deer is hungry enough and the deterrent is not strong enough, they may still eat your plants. In addition, you will need to reapply to the particular plant they are eating several times to get the deer to stop eating it or as rain/water rinses the product off the plant. You can also use ground cayenne pepper obtained at a bulk food store to deter deer from plants. Spray the plants with some water and then generously dust the plants with the cayenne pepper. The hotter you make the plant the less likely the deer will eat it. It may also be a good idea if you grow your own garden to plant some hotter pepper plants such as habanero or some of the ghost peppers. You can harvest, dry and grind them for your own homemade pepper spray. This will be much hotter than the cayenne pepper and will do a better job of deterring the deer.
Finally, in areas where you regularly have deer causing damage, it is recommended to choose plants that tend to be less palatable to the deer. There are several decorative ornamentals that fit in this category. Keep in mind that there is no plant that deer “will never eat”. If a deer is hungry enough they will even eat plants that are hard to chew and digest or that tastes bad. However, at times this is all it takes for the deer to go looking for some better food elsewhere.
Tree Rubbing Damage
Tree rubbing (often called buck rubs) occurs when either a buck is shedding the “velvet” off of their antlers or they are marking territory. There are three easy ways to address tree rubbing. The first (figure 5) is to install a fence around the tree(s) you want to protect. A good rule of thumb is to have the fence 3-4 feet away from the trunk of the tree. You can also elevate the fence several inches to make it easy to maintain the grass for aesthetic purposes. Also, making the mulch bed the same distance away from the trunk will help make maintenance of the area much easier for you. The second (figure 6) is to install a triangle of posts around the trunk of the tree. Male deer will typically not rub their antlers on metal, but if they do the rubbing will be on the post and not your tree. Both of these techniques are only needed from September 1 to January 31 and can be removed the remainder of the year.
The third technique is to use rigid tree bark protectors (Figures 7 and 8) which you can purchase at any home improvement store or by doing a quick search online. Usually using protectors rather than wrappings will provide better results. Use these from where the trunk of the tree meets the ground up about 4 feet. These protect the tree if the deer would attempt to rub on it. In addition, this technique offers trees (especially young trees) protection from squirrels, rabbits and rodents from chewing the bark which can kill the tree as well. If you use this method, it is recommended to keep the tubing on from at least October 1 to April 1. However, these can be left on year-round if you wish. Once the tree begins to outgrow the tree bark protector, usually when the tree reaches 4 inches in diameter, make sure to remove it so that it doesn't harm the tree as the tree grows. By that time the tree will be large enough that most deer will avoid rubbing the tree. Again, using these techniques can help achieve zero loss without requiring the use of lethal control.
The best way to avoid deer collisions with your vehicle is to be watchful not only for deer crossing the road but also for the driver in front of you that may slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a deer. While deer can and will move throughout the day, their primary movement times are at sunrise and sunset. Particular attention should be paid during the peak breeding season in October and November as well as the peak birthing season from April to June. These are the times you should be extra vigilant in watching for deer along roadways. While hitting a deer can cause serious damage to your vehicle, you run a better chance of injuring yourself or someone else by swerving off of the road. Therefore, it is recommended to slow down if you see a deer crossing the road in front of you. If you need to quickly stop to avoid hitting a deer, hit your brakes while maintaining your vehicle in the lane in which you are driving. Remember, deer crossing signs are only placed in areas throughout the city that have been identified as areas where deer regularly cross the road. However, deer can cross in front of you on any road throughout the city.
While deer most times appear to be gentle animals, you must remember that they are wild animals that can be unpredictable. You should always give wild animals their space. If they feel threatened they can easily cause injuries to humans or pets. If you notice a deer approaching you, make noise and wave your hands so that the deer knows you are there. If the deer continues to approach you, get inside and contact your local police department.
If you let pets outside, you should always scan the area prior to letting your pet out to ensure no deer are in the yard. Even dogs contained within a buried electric fence will chase after a deer potentially putting the pet at risk of getting hit by a car or getting lost. This is specifically important during the time of the year when does have fawns (May-July). Occasionally, a doe may perceive your dog as a threat to the fawn and may injure the dog while trying to protect the fawn from the perceived threat.
However, oftentimes normal deer behavior is confused with a deer acting aggressively. A normal deer reaction is to stomp the ground when they are unsure if something is a threat or not. It is not uncommon to walk outside only to find a deer in the yard. You immediately stop often worried if the deer is a threat. As you stand still the deer will stomp the ground to try and get you to move to determine if you are a threat. As mentioned above, make noise and wave your hands so that the deer knows you are there. The deer should within a few seconds and with the flickering of its tail, turn and leave the area. Keep in mind that deer in cities regularly see and hear people and that it is not uncommon for urban deer to not run away when they see a person.
Deer Damage Complaint Procedure
Ohio Administrative Code – 1501:31-15-08 (Deer Damage Control Permit) authorizes the Ohio Division of Wildlife to issue Deer Damage Control Permits under certain conditions and guidelines. While the OAC allows any landowner to apply for a permit, the application of a permit does not guarantee the landowner a permit even if damage is occurring. The Division of Wildlife personnel and partners, including SWCD Wildlife Specialists, provide guidance on handling complaints of crop losses or property damage caused by deer and issuance of permits.
In situations where deer damage is currently occurring, a landowner/lessee can request assistance on techniques to help deal with the damage experienced. In most cases, the assistance is first provided by a discussion over the telephone and/or email. However, at times a site visit may be needed to further assist the landowner/lessee to identify ways to minimize the damage. Recommendations to a landowner may include fencing and other exclusions, scare devices, repellents, alternative landscape plantings and hunting. Hunting is the most economical and efficient method of reducing deer numbers and is encouraged where feasible. If a Division of Wildlife representative determines that the use of a Deer Damage Control Permits (DDCP) in conjunction with other management techniques will further assist the landowner, a permit may be issued primarily when the damage is occurring.
These permits allow permittees and their approved shooters to kill an agreed-upon number of deer during the dates and under the conditions specified on the permit. In most situations, the permits are used to allow the shooting of deer outside of Ohio’s deer hunting seasons. However, in circumstances where damage is occurring during Ohio’s deer hunting seasons, permits may be extended during that time. The killing of antlerless deer is encouraged whenever possible. Under no circumstances are antlers from deer harvested under a Deer Damage Permit able to be kept.
Deer Damage Permits are intended as a tool for landowners to modify deer behavior in conjunction with reducing deer numbers on a particular property in an effort to alleviate and reduce property damage caused by deer. They are not issued for use as a quality deer management tool or as a primary means to kill deer for human consumption. The permittee and their approved shooters are fully responsible for conducting shooting activities in a safe, legal and responsible manner and assume all liability arising from their shooting activities. The permit may be revoked if the permittee and/or their shooters violate any of the conditions listed on the permit, are found to be in violation of local ordinances or are found to be conducting irresponsible shooting activities which affect adjoining landowners or tenants.