Living with White-Tailed Deer
Most people enjoy observing wildlife, including white-tailed deer. However, providing food in residential areas to attract deer can create a public safety threat for you and your neighbors.
Deer are most active at dawn and dusk and often can be seen along roadsides at these times. Deer are primarily browsers, feeding on the leaves, shoots, flowers and fruits of trees, shrubs and grasses. They prefer habitats with open, low-growing vegetation with adjacent forested areas, allowing them to feed and avoid predators. They also can inhabit residential areas, particularly where they are being fed.
Deer are generally fearful of people and avoid contact, but like any wild animal, a deer may defend itself if threatened.
Preventing problems with white-tailed deer
Feeding deer in residential areas isn’t good for them and can compromise the overall health of deer populations.
White-tailed deer naturally cover large land areas while foraging throughout the day. Repeatedly providing food causes them to congregate instead, which results in a build-up of droppings and unnaturally increases contact between groups. These conditions can enable the spread of disease.
Concerns about feeding deer
Feeding deer in residential areas, intentionally or unintentionally, is discouraged because it can lead to:
- Habituation, causing them to lose their natural fear of people
- Food conditioning, the expectation of food from people.
Deer that expect food and have no fear of people may display aggressive behavior, such as charging or kicking, towards people and pets. Once aggressive behavior is established, it is difficult to change.
Habituated and food conditioned deer can become a public safety concern due to their:
- Large size (males can weigh over 150 pounds and stand as tall as humans)
- Bony skulls
- Antlers on bucks (males)
- Pointy hooves
- Tendency to occur in herds
Traffic flow interruptions and damage to vehicles from collisions. Orphaning of fawns results when does (females) are struck and killed by vehicles.
Feeding deer in residential areas may lead to damage of flower beds and other landscaping, aggressive behavior towards pets and people, and deer droppings on driveways, sidewalks, yards and porches.
How to resolve issues with white-tailed deer
- Avoid planting forbs, flowers and fruits deer prefer and protect landscaping by preventing access with fencing that is at least 4 to 4 ½ feet high.
- Use deer repellents. Repellents can reduce but not eliminate damage to plants. They are best suited for orchards, small gardens and ornamental plants and can be applied directly to the plants.
- If you encounter deer in a residential area and they appear to be losing their fear of people, the FWC recommends actively hazing (scaring) them.
- Use motion activated sprinklers, alarms or other devices that move or produce sound to scare deer away from areas that you want to protect such as landscaping.
- Yell or make loud noises such as setting off car alarms when you see deer, so they leave the area.
- Deer may get used to these scare tactics over time, so vary hazing techniques as needed. Encourage other adults in your community to do the same by sharing these tips with your neighbors. Your efforts will be more successful if everyone avoids feeding deer and the animals retain their natural fear of people.
- White-tailed deer that are repeatedly aggressive toward people may ultimately have to be humanely killed. It is rarely an option to trap and relocate deer that have become aggressive. Keep deer wild by not feeding them.