Deer Damage and Control
last updated May 2007

Deer damage or feed on a wide variety of fruits and vegetables such as cole crops, lettuce, grapes, corn, pumpkins, berries, tomatoes, fruit trees and other plants. Because white-tailed deer lack upper incisor teeth, deer damage leaves a jagged edge on twigs or stems, compared with a clean-cut surface left by rodents and rabbit feeding. Vegetables are readily eaten, and entire gardens may be destroyed. Sweet corn tips are eaten, including the silk and one to two inches of the ear, but occasionally plants are grazed to the ground. In addition, deer trample many crops as they move about the field.

Life History and Habits

Deer are active in Connecticut year round. Breeding occurs from October to December. Fawns are born in May and June, weighing about eight pounds at birth and increasing in weight over the next six to seven years. deer-raa slidePeak feeding activity occurs in early morning and late evening, thus deer damage the garden without being seen. Damage by deer in Connecticut is increasing as residential development forces deer into smaller and smaller habitats and wild food sources decrease.

Deer are protected during all times of the year except various hunting seasons or by obtaining special crop damage permits. All methods of destroying deer such as using traps, poisons, toxic baits, etc. are illegal. Use of illegal methods are dangerous to domestic animals and individuals and may result in liability for damage and poor public relations.

Nonchemical Control

  1. Hunting during the legal season or with Special permits will help reduce deer populations and crop damage. To obtain a special permit, a commercial grower must be able to demonstrate severe damage (a loss of at least $2500) to the crop, The grower has to apply to the Division of Wildlife, Department of Environmental Protection, Franklin Wildlife Management Area Field Office at 860-642-7239. More information can be obtained by calling this number.
  2. Fences are the best nonlethal way to protect a field from deer damage, For large areas, wire fences should be at least eight feet high and can be made using two, four-foot widths of welded wire fencing joined one on top of the other. A high voltage electric fence can be effective if properly maintained. A number of commercial styles and systems are available, but costs are high.
  3. Plant highly susceptible crops as far from wooded cover as possible. This method provides only slight protection, at best, since deer forage over a large area.

Nonchemical Repellents

  1. Bars of fragrant soap will keep, deer from crops at critical times. The best soap to use is the small, heavily perfumed, individually wrapped bars. Leave the wrapper on the bar, drill a small hole through the soap and hang from stakes or plants around the perimeter of the field. The repellent is short-lived as deer become accustomed to fragrances. Remove soap when protection is no lon ger required.
  2. Animal specialists state that a mixture of a dozen eggs and five gallons of water can be applied to the ground using a pressure sprayer. The deer are repelled by the odor as the eggs rot in the ground, but humans will not detect it. This mixture will cover approximately one acre. Reapplication is necessary after each rainfall. Do not allow egg shells in the mixture or the sprayer may become plugged. Fermented whole egg solids Deer Away, Big Game Repellent) are commercially available from garden supply stores. Consult label for directions.
  3. A half-and-half mixture of bone meal plus blood meal may effectively repel deer for a limited time. Several reports indicate blood meal by itself may be effective. These materials are available at garden centers and can be hung in small bags around the field.
  4. Noisemaking devices and lights may discourage deer, but results are erratic and long-term effectiveness is unlikely. These devices may be annoying to neighbors. Permits are needed for many noisemaking devices.
  5. Human hair, placed in nylon stockings or plastic bags with holes punched in them and hung from stakes or plants around the field, may be an effective repellent. Results have been erratic in repellency tests. Human hair can be obtained from barber shops.
  6. Rancid grease or meat scraps (often called meat meal or tankage) can be placed in mesh bags or tin cans without lids and hung around the perimeter of the field. Puncture holes in the bottom of cans to allow rain to drain out and hang high enough off the ground to keep dogs and other animals from pulling them down. A by-product of the poultry industry called Feathermeal (ground chicken feathers) can be used similarly. These materials are effective only during warm weather and durability is from two to six weeks.deer-raa slide
  7. A commercially made hot pepper sauce is available (Hot Sauce Animal Repellent) to repel various animals. Use two tablespoons of hot sauce in 12 1/2 gallons of water with a retention additive (Wilt-Pruf or Vapor-Gard) to make vegetation distasteful to deer. Apply when animals first start to feed. Animals attempting to eat treated plant material will not be harmed, and the hot sensation in their mouth and throat will discourage further feeding. Consult label for complete directions and restrictions before using.
  8. Manure and urine of large cats (tigers, lions, cougars) can be obtained from zoos and is reported to be very effective in preventing deer damage. Do not apply directly to foliage or edible parts. A disadvantage of these materials is that they do not weather well. Frequent reapplications may be necessary. Commercial products are available but difficult to find.

Chemical Control

  1. Hinder and Repel (ammonium soaps of higher fatty acids) are odor repellents that can be applied directly to plants. They are effective but are easily washed off by rainfall. These materials can be applied in combination with normal pesticide applications but are not effective when applied to bare ground. Consult label for details and directions.
  2. Thiram (tetramethylthiuram) is an effective repellent for use on nonfood crops. It is available under the names 'TMTD, Cunite or Bonide Deer Repellent. Consult label for directions before using.

Many of these methods are effective for only short periods of time because deer adjust to them. Combinations of methods may provide better long-term results.

Prepared by Norman L. Gauthier, Cooperative Extension Educator/Entomologist, University of Connecticut
Photos by Richard A. Ashley, University of Connecticut

Related deer information Animal Damage Control--White Tailed Deer

Deer Damage Photos

The information in this material is for educational purposes. The recommendations contained are based on the best available knowledge at the time of printing. Any reference to commercial products, trade or brand names is for information only, and no endorsement or approval is intended. The Cooperative Extension system does not guarantee or warrant the standard of any product referenced or imply approval of the product to the exclusion of others which also may be available.All agrochemicals/pesticides listed are registered for suggested uses in accordance with federal and Connecticut state laws and regulations as of the date of printing. If the information does not agree with current labeling, follow the label instructions. The label is the law.Warning! Agrochemicals/pesticides are dangerous. Read and follow all instructions and safety precautions on labels. Carefully handle and store agrochemicals/pesticides in originally labeled containers immediately in a safe manner and place. Contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection for current regulations.The user of this information assumes all risks for personal injury or property damage.Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kirklyn M. Kerr, Director, Cooperative Extension System, The University of Connecticut, Storrs. The Connecticut Cooperative Extension System offers its programs to persons regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability and is an equal opportunity employer.