Fencing to Exclude Deer

An adult deer can easily jump 7 ft. or higher, and can squeeze through small gaps in vertical or horizontal slatted fences.  While short fences (4 ft.) may be effective at reducing damage in very small areas or around individual trees or shrubs, a “deer proof” fence would need to be 8 ft. or taller and constructed of strong impenetrable material like welded wire or chain link to be effective long-term.  This type of fence is expensive, it is not aesthetically pleasing, and may not be feasible in many situations.  However, the one-time cost of erecting a permanent 8 ft. fence may be offset by many years of a damage free area.

Although deer can jump high and far, their eyes are located on the side of their head, giving them poor depth perception.  A 3-dimensional electric fence will not serve as a “deer proof” fence, but can serve as an effective deer deterrent, and may be a less expensive fencing option.  One effective design involves erecting 2 single strand electric fences, each 2ft tall, and 5ft apart.  Another effective design involves erecting a multi-strand electric fence angled outward at 45 degrees.  These type fences require continued maintenance and may be less effective if deer are already accustomed to coming into the fenced area.
if you ignore these issues, you may waste your time and money.
  1. Electric deer barriers act on the animal's brain, not its body. Thus the best fence may fail if it is installed at the wrong time on the wrong site and managed without an awareness of how a deer herd interacts with your area and the new fence. The only sure deer barrier is a woven wire fence or brick wall 8-10 ft. tall.  All other deer fences involve some risk and require thought in placement and maintenance.
  2. Deer are creatures of habit. Where they choose to feed or rub is a habit learned over time and reinforced every time they feed there safely. To exclude a deer herd from a food source forces the herd to break this habit. Thus the first day, week and month of denial is the key period. Once a feeding habit is broken, the change is usually easier to maintain.
  3. Deer make "cost-benefit" decisions about preferred feeding sites, trails and rubbing trees. Pain barriers for deer use electric shock to suddenly raise the "cost" (degree of risk and effort to use an area). The goal is to persuade the deer that it is safer and less painful to feed or rub elsewhere. Do not expect success in persuading a starving deer herd to feed elsewhere if your site is its only food source.
  4. Pain barriers work best when deer are hesitant. Therefore they are less successful when the animal is being chased or moving down a known trail or path. So identify any deer trails entering the exclusion area and block them with logs or brush pile so the deer is forced to take a different route.  Terrified animals do not make normal decisions. Once deer learn that they can leap over or crawl under a fence, they're more likely to do so even when they're not terrified.
  5. Don't try to repel deer from the entire area all at once. Remember, the intent is to change the herd's "mind" and thus its behavior. Therefore, install the new fence around a very small area first. Leave it in place and working for 2 weeks. The deer will encounter it, learn to avoid it and begin to regularly feed or rub in areas not enclosed by the new pain barrier. Progressively expand the area enclosed until 100% of the area is protected. Using this technique the first fence should have 2 - 4 strands instead of 1 -2—thus increasing the probability of eventual complete success.
  6. Deer interpret a fence in their terms, not ours. Their world is not color—but black, white and shades of gray. Therefore barriers that contrast with their perceived natural world are thus the most visible and most likely to get their attention. Deer use their noses to investigate. They see moving objects more readily than stationary objects.  Tying black and white fabric or contrasting mylar strips onto the electric wires helps deer perceive the barrier better.
  7. Deer fear that which is strange and new. So, avoid using fence conductors that they already recognize and do not fear. For example, single strand electric fences, barbed wire fences etc. are common in the deer’s world and often deer do not fear these types of fences in their environment.
  8. Allow routes for escape. When deer encounter an electric fence, they are less likely to jump over it or crawl under it if they have alternative avenues to avoid the fence. So building the fence 6-8 ft. away from a forest provides deer space to maneuver when they suddenly receive a shock. As a result they detour around an electric fence.
  9. Use a powerful fence energizer. Because of their body shape and hollow hair, deer have higher internal resistance to electricity than most animals. Thus, it requires a more powerful energizer (in joules and volts) to produce enough fear to make them avoid an area.
  10. Never leave the fence unelectrified especially at night. Not even for an hour. If you want to leave it off during the day, install a timer. However, leave it on continuously for the first month.
  11. Bait the energized wires when the fence is first installed and at critical seasons of the year. It is common to wrap peanut butter inside tinfoil and hang it on the fence at 20-40 ft. intervals. The smell draws the deer's nose to fence.