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The Game Trail

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The Game Trail

Why deer can be a pest and what you can do about 'em

As I type this article, the sun is shining and the thermometer is approaching 70 degrees, the likes of which we haven’t felt since September 2008.  I took the opportunity to work on the garden and some landscaping around the house.  I hope you all had the chance to enjoy the weather as well!  While I was planting my cool season vegetables a topic for The Game Trail hit me like a ton of bricks.   I’ll share some ideas with you that may help keep deer out of your garden and landscaping.

Anybody that has had a garden in North Idaho knows that whitetail deer can make pretty quick work of a garden, leaving you with nothing but high blood pressure and the desire for a spring hunting season.   Like bears, once they have found that free lunch, whitetail deer will come running, jumping fences, ignoring scare tactics, and bowling you over to get a taste of your scrumptious garden delights.  I received a call last spring about a “rabid deer”.  I thought to myself as I dialed the caller’s number, “this should be an interesting conversation because deer don’t get rabies.”  It turns out this lady was madder than a hornet that a deer was eating her lettuce in the middle of the day and was not running from the repeated crack of a .243 over its head.  “Darn thing must be rabid” she stated.  I explained to the angered gardener that her lettuce was just that good.

The best whitetail deer deterrent is to not let them get to the garden or landscaping, they will go away once the “free lunch” is denied.  Unfortunately that involves building a fence, which some folks are understandably against.    If you’ve had enough with the deer and want to be done with those overgrown rabbits once and for all, build a fence.  Not any old fence though.  Deer can easily clear any fence under eight feet so you either have to build higher than 8 feet or be clever with your fence construction.  Deer can jump high, but can’t cover much distance in the process, so think in the terms of height and width during fence construction.  For example a six foot fence would work if it were slanted out on a 45 degree angle.  Typically the deer will try to go under the fence and meet resistance.  Or you can plant thorny shrubs in front of the fence requiring a wider jump.   If you already have an existing four or five foot fence built, try building a similar fence four feet from the existing one.  The deer won’t be able to negotiate both fences.  Another way to deer proof an existing fence is add extenders to the fence posts to make the fence 8 to 10 feet high. Then stretch wire from post to post and hang flagging in the wire so the deer can see the top wire at 10 feet and know that you mean business.

A lot of people I talk with are not willing to build fences so they have to come up with alternative methods to keeping the deer away.  Here are few methods that I have seen over the years, some work better than others.  First, be selective about what kind of vegetation you are planting around the house.  Remember, if you set the dinner table for bears and deer with fruit trees and don’t have a fence, expect them to arrive as guests.  There are many resources around the county to help in your selective of plantings such Master Gardeners, garden centers, and the Idaho Fish & Game Department.  Other methods would include scaring the deer with movement and or sound devices.    In my experience these devices work for a short amount of time and then the deer become used to the devices and continue browsing on your landscaping or garden.

There are many deer repellents available, some commercially made others you can make at home.   Some of the home made repellents include obtaining human hair from a barber, place them in a nylon sock and hang near the plants you want protected.  Tinfoil, old CDs or DVDS, or mirrors tied to string and allowed to flutter in the wind sometimes works at keeping deer at bay.  In my experience you might want to move the location of the flashy objects every few weeks or so.   Human urine is another scent deterrent that frankly I think doesn’t works at all, some folks swear by it.  It’s as simple as urinating around the garden area.  A few things to think about, including how are the neighbors going to feel when they catch you with your pants down in the garden?   Also, I think it works quite the opposite, while camping I have seen deer lick the ground where humans have urinated.  If all those ideas fail, there are the commercially made products that you can find in any gardening section of most stores.  I haven’t used these products but people have shared their results with me and it varies depending on the application and the brand.

If you have any other ideas that are working to keep the deer out of the gardens please share those with me so I can help other folks!

On the topic of deer, our does are going to be giving birth pretty soon and we’ll have the delight of seeing newborn deer running around.  As a friendly reminder, please do not pick up the fawns because you haven’t seen mom around in while.  The chances that mom has abandon the fawn are slim to none, so give that fawn a chance by leaving it alone.  You may not see mom for days, but see the fawn in your field bawling and appearing desperate for mom.  This is normal; mom doesn’t want you to see her with her fawn.  Remember, If you Care, Leave it There.

Spring is here, enjoy all that we have in North Idaho, we are truly blessed.  Be responsible with our resources, and please get those kids outside.  See you out there!

Leave No Child Inside


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Matt Haag Matt Haag is an Idaho Fish and Game Conservation Officer.

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