Harmful animals

Deer: Friend or Foe?

I feel like I’m going to start a debate with my topic of the day! Already, when I talked about red squirrels a few weeks ago, I raised passions: you all had a squirrel story (probably gray!) to share. Well, today, I’m touching on a ticklish subject: the famous “deer”!

Europe and North America have two, distinct, but very similar species. Their antlers are not the same size and do not point in the same direction: shorter and upwards like the picture on the left is the roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), in Europe. Wider and pointing forward – on the right – is the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), which lives in America.

If you come across an antlerless female, how can you tell the difference? There are obviously other more subtle differences, but to make it simple, ask Google Maps which continent you’re on ;P

Deer In North America

Don’t lie, when you wake up one morning to a deer in your yard, or have an encounter on a trail, you are amazed. What a majestic beast. Both delicate and muscular, with big wet eyes, a curious snowy nose and, if you’re lucky, one or two young of the year not far from their protective mother…

Awww… How cute…

This is where the good things I have to say end!

Laughing Rabbit

The reality is that deer are destructive. They won’t eat your wires or cut holes in your house, but they will eat your plants. All your plants. And your car, if like me, you live in the country!

White-tailed deer are generalists and herbivores. This means that they eat almost everything that is green: young shoots, leaves, buds, seeds, flowers, vegetables, fruits…

Fortunately, it leaves our green (recycling) bins alone! It must not be the right green to please them…! I’m kidding, of course, when I say “green”, I mean vegetation.

Luckily for us, they are generally fearful. They don’t get too close to homes (I mean generally, don’t throw tomatoes at me, and read on for an explanation of why they still destroy everything in your house).

Photo: JillWellington

My Personal Experience With Deer

When I moved to the country, I surrounded my yard with a 6-foot fence to keep the deer out. After two years, I found that none were approaching. So the fence was redesigned to make it more elegant and useful for the truly naughty creatures that live in my house: the small rodents.

I made this decision because I could not see any evidence (footprints or droppings) of deer passage near the house at all. They’re content with the bottom of my wooded lot where wild apple trees grow.

However, in the last few months, deer have been passing in front of my house…. A little too close to my plum trees for my taste. So begins my story…


At the sight of the trespasser, I unleashed my faithful dog Sayanel at the intruder. Here is what I understood from their exchange as my terrifying 15 pound poodle ran towards the deer:



-“Come back, I can’t go any further! ……. Okay, bye… 🙁 “

After two or three times, he did not come back, and so I had chased him away from my home.


Dog lying on its back
The hero of the story. Photo: Audrey Martel.

Why Are Deer Such a Big Problem?

There are those who love them and want to let them live, and those who are victims of deer. Who is right?

Generalist species are the ones that survive urban sprawl best. They find a new source of food and reproduce easily, while other more selective species struggle to adapt. The generalists then have free rein to proliferate and even become invasive. Sometimes it’s nothing really disturbing to us (like coyotes), and sometimes it’s more problematic (like grey squirrels).

White-tailed deer
Hard to be objective in front of such beauty, I know. Photo: MabelAmber.

Deer have adapted well to the presence of humans. A small patch of woods is enough to keep them content, and when they need more, they’ll grab a few of your squash. Their predators can’t say the same for themselves. Wolves, which are less comfortable with small spaces and the presence of humans, no longer exist where deer breed.

So far, no problem.

The trouble comes when the deer are breeding, again, and again, and again, with no natural force to reduce their numbers. They devour everything available to them in the forest, then, running out of foliage, they leave these natural environments to eat your flower beds and find a place where there is more food.

A deer smashes a business window
Hunger can even lead to extreme cases!

Vehicular collisions, starving herbivores (deer, but also rabbits, groundhogs and others) and high-profile controversies over what to do with a surplus of deer in an urban forest area…

This can be described as an imbalance in the ecosystem.

What Can We Do to Save What We Want to Save?

I don’t want to start a debate, I’m giving you a biologist’s solution to restore the balance in nature: you have to introduce a natural predator.

Is that possible? No, wolves don’t live near humans. So what? We have to find another way to reduce their numbers… because they’ll starve to death anyway! Sterilize them? Hunt them down? I don’t have the right answer (I don’t think there is one), and we’ll never all agree…. But I personally like deer chops with blue cheese sauce!

In your garden: scare them. Difficult to do because they’re often so used to the presence of humans (especially in the city) that they’re not afraid of anything! Be ingenious… and keep your fingers crossed!

Some Ideas to Try to Scare Your Deer

  • Let your dog go for it (of course, only if he has no chance of approaching them, you don’t want the deer kick it in the face!)
  • Come screaming out and run at them.
  • Install a motion detector that makes noise, lights or sprays the intruder.
  • Hide aluminum foil under a layer of leaves around your appetizing plants.
  • Install ropes that hang from tree branches and touch the deer as they approach.
  • Be creative!

This article may not have given you a clear and easy solution to your problems, but I hope it has enlightened you as to why deer are a problem in your gardens!

Bambi smelling like flowers

Audrey Martel is a biologist who graduated from the University of Montreal. After more than ten years in the field of scientific animation, notably for Parks Canada and the Granby Zoo, she joined Nature Conservancy of Canada to take up new challenges in scientific writing. She then moved into marketing and joined Leo Studio. Full of life and always up for a giggle, or the discovery of a new edible plant, she never abandoned her love for nature and writes articles for both Nature sauvage and the Laidback Gardener.

11 comments on “Deer: Friend or Foe?

  1. Hi! This post could not be written any better!Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate!He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him.Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  2. these photos are well taken

  3. they look so innocent!

  4. Love deer. Also love eating deer. Because we have no apex predators in the UK deer numbers are out of control and destroying native woodland since people started buying all their meat in supermarkets which don’t source wild products. Land owners are still having to cull but without a market which is a crying shame.

  5. Elaine ransom

    Deer have proliferated in town and out both white tail and mule deer. When drought hits they will eat anything. What was safe in July is gone in august. The only thing that really works is high fences. And don’t leave the gh door open even the top half, without a non Jumpable barricade!

  6. I have a love/hate relationship with deer. Beautiful to look at but so destructive. Our city is set to cull 250 of them from within our city limits shortly. Some people object and even spring the live traps set by the game wardens. The meat will be donated to the local food bank so the less fortunate will have protein on their dinner table and this will lessen competition for food for the remaining deer. The high population of deer also attract cougar which are far more dangerous to peoples pets and small children although deer have become quite aggressive here toward humans. I plant things that are less desirable to their palate but when there is limited winter vegetation they will eat anything. As long as we continue to encroach on their territory they will be with us. The only real solution to keeping them at bay is an eight foot solid fence.

  7. Ann T Dubas

    The deer are beautiful, no doubt. But they seem to be a big cause of destruction of native plant species and proliferation of invasives. They devour the natives and avoid the invasives. Our community has a large herd of almost tame deer and is drowning in a sea of invasive plant species such as Japanese stilt grass. We have to fence the natives they especially love such as Evening Primrose and New Jersey Tea. Our vegetable garden has an 8 feet tall fence. We are exhausted with trying to protect our lilies with spray every night and are starting to move them inside fences. The dog runs them off in the daytime but they come back at night.

  8. Before I became a gardener, when I saw a deer I thought Bambi. For the past twenty plus years, I see deer and think destruction and ticks. I have a non-gardening neighbor who doesn’t even sit outside, and some years she feeds the deer which causes a herd of about 18 to be hanging around all winter. I tried talking to her, but it doesn’t work, she sees Bambi.

  9. Jt Michaels

    Where I live in NW Lower Michigan, development is causing our Deer to be, as R. Pennie noted, menaces. City people are buying rural and building, building, building.

  10. No debate. Deer are rats ith antlers. I cheered when I saw Bambi’s mother die in the movie. Tall, metal, deer fencing seems to be best solution.

  11. White-tailed deer are a huge problem where I live in Nova Scotia – and a real threat, because they carry the ticks that cause Lyme disease, which is becoming quite prevalent here. Cute yes, but a menace.

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