From the Alabama Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources
-- Because white-tailed deer are very adaptive, they thrive in rural areas and are frequent residents in urban and suburban sites. Most deer-human conflicts occur in suburban developments.
Many home owners are not familiar with deer and their habits. People will start to feed deer to bring them out into the open so they can be more easily viewed. This seemingly innocent activity often has detrimental results for both deer and humans.
Feeding can cause deer to become acclimated to humans and their activities. Like many other species of wildlife, deer are opportunistic feeders and if an easy meal is provided they will often take advantage of it. At the same time they may develop a taste for other type of foods.
Instead of staying in the woods and along field edges they may become trained to venture closer to homes until they start feeding on vegetable and flower gardens, shrubs and other landscape plantings. It is best to avoid a potential problem by not feeding deer and accepting the natural viewing opportunities.
There are several ways home owners can help lower the possibility of creating nuisance deer. Where practical, place gardens as close to houses as possible and avoid woodland edges. In an area where deer are already acclimated to humans it may be feasible to plant two gardens, one for the deer next to the woodlands and one for you next to the house.
Deer have also been known to feed heavily on certain shrubs and fruit trees, even those planted next to houses. Planting deer-resistant shrubs and trees are the best ways to reduce deer damage. These plants usually have a bitter taste, are strongly aromatic, have sticky sap, and/or bristly or spiny leaves.
Installing an electric fence around the garden may also be required. Remember, deer can jump most fences so a single strand of wire may not be enough. Using a poly-tape wire or hanging ribbons on the electric fence wire can improve its effectiveness, along with installing additional strands as needed. Remember to mark the fence with warning signs to prevent any surprises to humans.
There are many methods that demonstrate some limited success in reducing deer damage around small acreages. Repellants have a smell or taste that deer dislike. Some can be applied directly to the vegetation being eaten and some placed as a fence around an area. Repellants generally have to be reapplied as weather and time reduce their effectiveness.
Hanging bars of soap on fences or from tree limbs or shrubs emits an odor that has in some cases repelled deer for short periods of time. Other items such as rags, small bags of human hair, or anything with a strong human odor have also had some success in deterring deer.
Aluminum pie plates and noise makers (i.e. cans with pebbles in them) hung on strings around the affected area have also been used.
Deer can become quickly acclimated to these types of measures if exclusively relied upon. It will be necessary to move these items around and even periodically remove them from the site to confuse the deer. Dogs may also help with preventing deer from entering the yard.
The most effective way to control nuisance deer is to implement a legal harvest program to reduce the overall number of deer number in the area. This can, in most instances, be accomplished by harvesting as many does as legally possible. Working with neighbors in the effort to control excess deer numbers increases the likelihood of success.
Living in an area with a high deer population can, at times, be frustrating. Being adaptable and applying some of these techniques will prove to make life a little more enjoyable.
-By Daniel G. Toole, wildlife biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.