Deer as Neighbors

White-tailed Deer live in many habitats throughout Virginia—from quiet, deep forests to the busy suburbs, there are few areas where they don’t live! Deer nearly disappeared from Virginia in the 1930s due to overhunting, but now there may be more White-tailed Deer in Virginia than ever before. No matter where they are found, these large herbivores have an impact on their environments. 

Many Virginians and visitors love seeing deer in their natural habitats, but with numerous deer and expanding human development, sometimes conflicts can arise.

Common Conflicts

Eating Gardens/Plants

Deer are herbivores and enjoy eating a wide variety of ornamental and garden plants, much to the dismay of many homeowners. Deer may prefer different plants depending on where they live, and the abundance of alternative food sources will also influence their tastes.

In areas where there are few deer, planting trees, shrubs, and ornamental flowers that deer don’t like to eat can help reduce foraging damage. In areas where deer populations are high, this strategy likely won’t impact deer foraging – deer may eat less palatable plants if food is scarce.

In general, marigolds, daffodils, chrysanthemums, barberry, potentilla, American holly, boxwood, ornamental grasses, junipers, and some spruce and pine trees are less palatable to deer. Deer favorites include azaleas, pansies, peonies, hostas, roses, and fruit trees. Check with your local garden store or extension office for more information on what types of plants are more deer-resistant in your area. Click here for the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s information on deer-resistant plans and deterrents

Deterrents & Exclusion

In general, visual, audio, and scent/taste deterrents can be effective for locations where there are occasional deer visitors. In areas where deer populations are high, exclusion is a more effective and consistent solution.

Visual and Audio

Scarecrows, predator eye balloons, flashing or strobe lights, and mylar tape or flagging are all effective visual deterrents, but the most effective deterrents offer a combination of visual and auditory stimulus and should be changed often. Deer can habituate quickly to any single deterrent, so repellents should be moved or changed every few days to be most effective.

Auditory deterrents don’t need to be extremely loud; deer have sensitive hearing and will often startle at intermittent banging noises or voices. Gas or propane exploders have been used effectively in orchards and fields.

Scent/Taste

A variety of scent repellents can be used to repel and alarm deer; it’s recommended to use this type of repellent in conjunction with visual and audio deterrents for maximum efficacy. Simple household items such as soap bars, mint oils mixed with pepper and garlic, and citrus smells may help with occasional deer visitors but need to be reapplied frequently. There are a variety of commercial scent repellents on the market; many rely on the smell of predator urine to startle deer and keep them out of the affected area.

Exclusion

The most effective way to protect a garden against deer is exclusion through fencing. Adult deer can clear a six-foot fence; an eight-foot fence is more likely to protect a particular area from deer visitors. Fences must be entirely secure; deer may try to crawl under loosely constructed fences.

A shorter electric fence can also be effective at protecting gardens from deer in rural areas; there are a variety of plans for homeowners who would like to construct their own fences.

Deer-Vehicle Collisions

According to a 2017 study from State Farm, Virginia is one of the higher-risk states in the country when it comes to deer-vehicle collisions. Virginia ranks 11th in the country; neighbor West Virginia ranks #1.

November is the worst month for collisions, followed by October and December. The riskiest times of day for deer-vehicle collisions are dusk and dawn, typically 5:00 – 8:00, both am and pm.

Deer whistles have not been proven to be effective in reducing collisions, so drivers must take steps to reduce the risk of collisions.

Help Prevent Deer-Vehicle Collisions
  • Actively scan the road and look for deer at high-risk times of the day. Scan the sides of the roads for reflective eyes.
  • Use your high beams unless another car is driving toward you.
  • Pay attention to deer highway signs – they are there because there is a higher volume of deer activity there.
  • Slow down the moment you see any deer near the road. There are typically more than one present.
  • Honk your horn when you see a deer.
  • If possible and safe, drive in the center lanes farthest from the sides of the road in high-risk areas.
  • If a deer is in the road, and a collision can’t be prevented, brake and continue braking until the last second before impact. At the last moment, remove the foot from the brakes. This will allow the front end of the car to rise upon impact, which means the deer is more likely to pass under the car rather than landing on the front and hitting the windshield. Most serious injuries and fatalities to drivers are caused by taking evasive actions.
If You Hit a Deer
  • Pull over, if possible. Turn on hazard lights and, if you can, shine the headlights onto the animal.
  • Call 9-1-1.
  • Check passengers for injuries. Even if there are no injuries, shock can occur quickly. Try to reassure one another and if it is cold, put on warmer clothing immediately -- shock or fear increases the inability to ward off cold. If it is winter, stay in the car for warmth.
  • Avoid going near the deer; it may kick out in fear and pain, and can severely injure you. If the deer is injured, it is also likely in a state of shock and is likely to panic if touched or moved by a human.
  • If the deer blocks the road, use your hazard lights and headlights and keep your car stationary. Only attempt to move the animal if you are 100% certain that it is dead.

If You Find a Baby Deer

In Virginia, White-tailed Deer fawns are born April through July, with the majority of fawns born in June. Most first-year does have one fawn each year, but twins or triplets are typically seen thereafter.

Until they are strong enough to keep up with their mothers, deer fawns are left alone while their mothers go off to feed. Mother deer will stay away from the fawns to avoid leading predators to their young. Does return at dawn and dusk to feed and/or move their young. Click here to learn more about what to do if you find a fawn.

What Not to Do

  • Never feed deer. Deer feeding facilitates the spread of disease, due to the prolonged crowding of deer around an artificial food source. There are several significant and devastating deer diseases in Virginia, including Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), tuberculosis, and brucellosis. It’s illegal to feed deer from September 1 through the first Saturday in January; and it’s illegal to feed them in the high-risk CWD areas in Virginia. Feeding deer also causes them to lose their fear of humans; the artificial food can also harm deer. These animals are adapted to eating a specific diet in the winter; a rapid change in a deer’s diet can cause significant health issues. Keep deer safe and don’t feed!
  • Never keep a fawn. If you suspect a fawn needs assistance, call a wildlife rehabilitator immediately. Fawns that grow up with people in a home setting will become tame; they are quite dangerous when they reach sexual maturity. Virginia has several permitted fawn rehabilitators who can safely raise orphaned and injured fawns for release.
  • Never approach an adult deer. Even if injured adult deer appear weak, they may just be stunned and can quickly come to and lash out with hooves and antlers. Always call the sheriff’s department or animal control for assistance with an injured adult deer. According to DWR’s wildlife rehabilitation permit conditions, adult deer may not be rehabilitated in the state of Virginia.

More Info on Living with Deer