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 information on controlling deer damage below.
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 including:
- Morton Arboretum: Plants Not Favored by Deer
- University of Illinois Extension: Gardening with Perennials
- Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management: 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 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 on 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. For repellents to be most effective, it is best to start using them before damage begins.
Home remedies are not generally effective, but they do work in some cases. Some people have had success in deterring deer browsing 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.
White-tailed deer are excellent jumpers. In order to keep deer off of your property, a wood or wire 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.
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.
If the scope of deer damage is greater than can be addressed by individual residents alone, active deer population control by a 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, city ordinances must be examined to determine if they prevent firearm discharge within the city which would preclude 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, and 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, and municipalities to authorize the reduction or control of deer numbers by nontraditional or nonhunting methods.
There is an application process which requires the agency or organization to submit a deer management proposal documenting the need for deer herd reduction by nontraditional means, such as sharpshooting.
The prevailing objectives for most current deer control programs under these permits are to reduce several factors:
- 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.
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 directions for taking deer. Try to have one hunter for every 10 to 15 acres of wooded habitat.
Outside of 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.