D’oh, a deer! How to protect your garden and shrubs from deer and moose

Nice to look at, but also destructive. How to keep cervids away from your property

D’oh, a deer! How to protect your garden and shrubs from deer and moose

Moose, elk and deer are members of the family Cervidae (cervids) which includes some 41 species worldwide. In Canada, we have to contend with white-tailed deer (the number one pest), moose (called elk in Europe), mule or black-tailed deer and elk (called red deer in Europe). These animals can be very destructive around farms, acreages and orchards.

Here is a list of things that will not detain white-tailed deer (often called “Bambi goats”) and moose (referred to by acreage owners as swamp donkeys).

  • Fire
  • Flood lights or trip lights
  • Water or sprinkler pump noises
  • Small or lazy dogs
  • Wolf or coyote urine
  • Human hair
  • Scented soaps
  • Backyard evening parties
  • Fences they can see over
  • Seven-foot wire fences
  • Trip wires
  • Some electric fences
  • Bags, rags and things that float in the air

White-tailed deer and mule deer will generally not jump fences eight feet or higher. An eight-foot fence can be built from an eight-foot buffalo fence or, much less expensively, from two sets of four-foot high sheep fence wiring with a four-inch gap in the middle (giving you an eight-foot, four-inch fence). Moose or deer will not attempt to jump an eight-foot fence unless they are being chased.

Deer will not jump over a solid five- to six-foot wooden fence. If they can’t see over it, they won’t jump it. A moose can see over and may jump. A pair of border collies or an aggressive dog will keep deer out if encouraged to do so. Moose, on the other hand, particularly in the October/November breeding season or with calves in May/June, will readily attack all breeds of dogs.

Electric fences can do a good job if they are double stranded, two feet apart in height and regularly brushed with peanut butter so the deer and moose can smell them, get zapped and learn to avoid them.

Bow hunting can be an option in some suburban areas, with the deer looking better in your freezer than in the middle of your strawberry patch.

Another option is to place chicken wire mesh or page fencing rings around your favourite shrubs at four feet and again at four feet four inches to prevent them from leaning over the four-foot fencing. Deer will poke their heads through sheep fencing and eat the shrub. You will need at least two eight-foot poles for each shrub or small tree.

There are some shrubs that the cervids leave alone or browse very little. These include red and black currant, thorny gooseberry, thorny raspberry, chokecherry, pin cherries, sea buckthorn, mayday, eastern cedar, lilacs, green ash, spruce, balsam and most pines. Some repellants are effective but must be replaced periodically. A repellant called Skoot with an active ingredient of 11 per cent thiram is very effective against rodents (mice, rabbit, porcupine), but is of no use against cervids.

The only repellants that seem to be effective against cervids are fatty acids, rancid egg powders and very hot peppers. Fatty acids are components of all soaps so it is not a particular brand of soap that is effective, but rather the fatty acid. Soap with animal-origin fatty acids is the most effective and soaps with palm or other vegetable oils somewhat less effective. Rancid, rotten egg suspensions seem to work, as do very hot pepper extracts.

Soap (one teaspoon dishwashing liquid per quart), hot pepper juices and rotten egg suspensions (sold commercially) need to be sprayed on in late October and repeated monthly and after heavy rains, heavy dew or wet snowfall until early spring. This will discourage most cervids.

There are lots and lots of old tales and remedies out there but only these seem to work reliably. How do I know? I have four acres enclosed with an eight-foot, four-inch sheep wire fence, with several very alert Welsh border collies inside and friends who drop by the area for some legal bow hunting during the season.

About the author


Dr. Ieuan Evans is a forensic plant pathologist based in Edmonton, Alta. He can be reached at [email protected]



Stories from our other publications