Control Damage

A small population of deer browse evergreens in the winter when snow cover buries vegetation on the ground.
Deer are a common site in urban areas where suitable habitat is found. Damage is often seasonal as deer search for food or cover.
Photo: courtesy of Illinois Department of Natural Resources

A main complaint about deer is the damage they cause to landscaping, vegetable gardens, or agricultural crops.

When the deer population is not too large, damage can be limited by using habitat modification, repellents, or exclusion. When these damage abatement techniques prove ineffective, removal may be necessary.

White-tailed deer are protected under the Illinois Wildlife Code as a game species. They may not be removed without a license or permit.

Private landowners, homeowners, homeowners associations, and municipalities can find deer damage control information below.

Habitat Modification

These row of yew bushes have been severely browsed by deer. The browse line is about four feet from the ground. The yews are undamaged above the reach of the deer.
This row of yew bushes has been heavily damaged by deer. During the winter deer will browse on bushes as far up as they can reach standing on their back legs.
Photo: Robert J. Reber

When adding ornamental plantings to your yard, select plant species that are less susceptible to deer browsing. Planting thorny, prickly, or smelly plants can deter browsing. Several organizations have produced lists of plants that are not favored by deer:

If food is scarce due to a severe winter, or if the population of deer in your area is high, the deer may eat plants they do not normally prefer and usually leave alone. A deer will eat almost any plant if it is hungry enough.

Repellents

Repellents will reduce the damage that deer cause to vegetation but will not eliminate it. The repellents’ effectiveness depends upon local deer density, the availability of other foods, the palatability of the plants being protected, and the regularity with which the repellent is used. Repellents may prevent deer from eating the plant, but they will not deter damage caused by antler-rubbing.

Repellents can be expensive and must be reapplied as the plant grows and after heavy precipitation. Always read and follow label instructions of the product. Some repellents are not for use on plants intended for human consumption.

The Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management provides more information about deer repellents. To be most effective, it is best to start using repellents before damage begins.

Home Remedies

Home remedies are not generally effective, but do work in some cases. Some people have had success in deterring deer browse by hanging bars of deodorant soap around valuable plants. While bars of soap can be effective, the protection they offer extends only about three feet around the bar. Human hair, blood meal, and bone meal all weather very quickly and lose their effectiveness.

Exclusion

White-tailed deer are excellent jumpers. In order to keep deer off of your property a fence will need to be at least eight feet tall. Electric fences can also help minimize deer damage. They can provide a less costly alternative and can be erected seasonally prior to predicted deer damage.

There are a number of possible fence designs depending on the size of the area to be protected and the population of deer in the area. Keep in mind that fences that are too short or that have gaps can accidentally trap deer as they try to jump over or squeeze through. Specific fence designs can be obtained from your local Illinois Department of Natural Resources district wildlife biologist. The Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management provides information about deer fences.

Individual trees or plants can be protected by placing a five-foot tall wire cylinder around the plant. Tree protectors such as Vexar, Tubex, plastic tree wrap, or woven wire cylinders can all help protect new plantings. Placing netting over bushes or other plants can also be used temporarily on a seasonal basis to deter deer.

Removal

Urban Areas

Residential Landowners

Homeowners in urban areas are not permitted to remove nuisance deer. If solutions such as modifying plantings, or using repellents or fencing prove ineffective to reduce damage, an Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologist can provide guidance on the best management strategy or issue a deer removal permit.

Municipalities

If the scope of deer damage is greater than can be addressed by individual residents alone, active deer population control by the municipality or homeowners association may be necessary. There are essentially three options available.

1) Urban Hunting Programs

Many successful urban deer hunting programs have been established by municipalities throughout the United States, and the safety record of these hunts has been outstanding. Where a doe harvest emphasis has been mandated, population control has been achieved rather rapidly.

Prior to implementing an urban hunting program, the city ordinances must be examined to determine if they prevent firearm discharge within the city, creating the opportunity for gun deer hunting, and if ordinances exist allowing the use of bow and arrow for an archery season. Many communities have no set policy in regard to archery deer hunting, but simply operate under state regulations pertaining to season dates, possession of proper licenses and permits, proper equipment, permission from the landowner, and minimum distance from occupied dwellings.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologists can help guide municipalities on the best deer management strategies for the area.

2) Deer Removal Permits

Deer Removal Permits may be issued to municipalities to control damage caused by deer in localized areas, such as golf courses, nurseries, orchards, parks, or natural areas, at the time the damage is occurring.

Contact your local Illinois Department of Natural Resources district wildlife biologist to request a removal permit and describe the type of damage. The biologist will contact you to set a date for an on-site inspection to document and verify the occurrence and extent of the deer damage.

Deer removal permits will be issued only if other damage reduction techniques have been previously attempted without adequate damage reduction or are ongoing in conjunction with the removal permit.

3) Deer Population Control Permits

Deer Population Control Permits are issued to agencies, organizations, associations, or municipalities to authorize the reduction or control of deer numbers by non-traditional or non-hunting methods.

There is an application process which requires the agency or organization to submit a deer management proposal which documents the need for deer herd reduction by non-traditional means, such as sharpshooting.

The prevailing objectives for most current deer control programs under these permits are to reduce:

  • damage to native plant communities or ecosystems
  • deer-vehicle accidents on the property or adjacent roads
  • damage complaints from residents or neighbors

To apply for a Deer Population Control Permit, or for more information about controlling the local deer population, contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Urban Deer Biologist at (847) 798-7620.

Non-Urban Areas

The effective use of the legal hunting season is the best way to control deer populations. Deer can be legally hunted in Illinois during set seasons in the fall and winter.

Individuals attempting to use hunting as a deer management tool should recruit safety conscious, dependable hunters who are willing to follow his or her direction for taking deer. Try to have one hunter for every 10–15 acres of wooded habitat.

Outside of the legal firearm deer seasons, Deer Removal Permits may be issued to landowners for properties that are not incorporated within municipal boundaries to help reduce damage caused by deer, where excessive damage to agricultural crops, nurseries, orchards, or vineyards is current and ongoing. Contact an Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologists to request a Deer Removal Permit.