How to Keep Deer from Eating Your Stuff


I have a lot of things to say about keeping deer out of yards and away from tasty flowers and trees. At the same time, there is ONE thing that really gets things done …. but I won’t talk about it till the end!

The creative ways that people have attempted to control deer seem endless and in the end they aren’t generally effective, at least not for long. In my experience, the best method (outside of the ONE) is to keep spazzy dogs that like to chase deer. Of course, the dogs have to be outside 24/7 – none of this stuff where you bring the dogs inside.

Sepp Holzer doesn’t have dogs, so he uses scarecrows and does a lot of stuff to put up with the deer and a lot of stuff to try and dissuade them.

And then there are fences. On one of my podcasts I discuss deer control, sharing Toby Hemenway’s perspective that it is all about deer pressure.

For instance, if you have a six foot tall fence with deer “candy” inside but no candy on the outside, they will jump the fence. If there is candy on both the inside and the outside of the fence, they likely won’t bother with the fence. If the deer pressure is high, you may have to hire a fence contractor to install an eight to ten foot tall vinyl fencing with durable fence footings.

I posted a message on the permies forum sharing a quote from Toby on this very topic. I think it is worth sharing here as well:

If there’s anyone out there who has had good, long-term luck with any of the gentler methods, particularly in the West where the mule deer are even more aggressive than the eastern ones, I would love to hear of it. But I rankle a bit at suggestions of “sharing” and the implication that we fence builders are unaware beings living on some lower ethical plane, unless those suggestions are backed up with experience.

Deer have as strong a desire to feed themselves and their young as any other animal. They are intelligent and persistent. It is is contrary to nature to ask deer to deny themselves a good food source that is easily available. I’m not sure that the human concept of sharing is something that hungry deer subscribe to; otherwise why would they take every single apple on every tree, every lettuce plant, every raspberry bush?

I designed a hedge with deer food like wild plums, cherries, etc on the outside, and grafted varieties facing our house. This was an enormous investment in sharing the place I lived. Worked great for about 3 years. Then the deer discovered the better food on the inside, and stopped eating the wild stuff. They broke through it to get to my fruit trees.

I tried peeing to mark the territory, religiously renewing the spots nearly every day. Hah. I tried talking to the deer. I set up special places for them to feed. That just attracted more deer. I planted borders of things they didn’t like to eat. They trampled them on the way to the food. I interspersed non-edibles among edibles. They ate the edibles. Sometimes a method worked for a while, but only, I observed, when there was ample wild food. In the scarce season, they came for my garden. That’s the truth about nature awareness: they are very aware of where food is, have all day and night to look for it, and will not voluntarily go hungry. Why would they?

I consider myself a good animal communicator, and as sensitive and compassionate, and as good a pattern and life-cycle observer as I can manage. I tried every single method of sharing/hiding/protecting etc. my food crops as I could think of. I read all the books. In the long run, I lost many young fruit trees–the deer simply broke them down. I had gardens completely ravaged, berry bushes torn out of the ground. The only thing that actually worked was a stout fence, supplemented later by a dog. I loathed the idea of a fence, but my choices finally became: continually lose my food supply or build a fence.

Learn how to keep the deer from eating trees, flowers, and food in your garden.

Learn how to keep the deer from eating trees, flowers, and food in your garden. Photo by Tyler Ludens.

The summary up to this point is, if you have low deer pressure, all sorts of goofy things will work. But if you have high deer pressure, the only thing that will work is an eight to ten foot tall deer fence. But I have one more point to make.

Bone Sauce

I first learned about bone sauce (aka bone salve) from Sepp Holzer.

On the first full day of a class that he led, we toured a farm where the animals had wiped out nearly all growth. The land owner’s intent was to get a fresh start. So, the land owner ran animals in there to eliminate all of the weeds and … well …. everything. Then the land owner wanted to come in and plant new stuff. Sepp was very direct and did not mince words: He did not approve.

Sepp pointed out how only the trees were left, but since animals had nibbled at the bark so much, he called these trees “standing dead.” Sepp then told us about how he makes a sort of bone sauce that he puts on trees and will keep the animals from nibbling the trees forever.

“What? Forever?” “Decades.” “It can’t possibly last that long” “What can I say, it lasts that long.” – and this same discussion was rehashed a few times and Sepp stuck to his guns. Decades.

The process: first, you start with a cast iron kettle and bury it a bit and put a cup of water in the bottom; then fill another kettle with bones, put a screen over it and then plop the bone kettle upside down on the other kettle; pack clay around the edges to make a good seal, pile up some dirt and build a big fire over the whole thing.

Keep the fire going for an hour or two and then let it sit for a day. Then collect the nasty gunk from the bottom. Apparently this smells awful. Smear a little of this around the trunk of any tree and animals won’t ever touch that tree.

Hear Sepp speak to this himself:




Paul Wheaton is is the tyrannical ruler of two on-line communities. One is about permaculture and one is about software engineering. There is even one for Missoula. Paul has written several permaculture articles starting with one on lawn care that he presented at the MUD Project 17 years ago, including articles on raising chickenscast iron and diatomaceous earth. Paul also regularly uploads permaculture videos and permaculture podcasts. In his spare time, Paul has plans for world domination and is currently shopping for a hollowed out volcano in the Missoula area, with good submarine access.

See all of Paul’s contributions to Make it Missoula here.