Beavers at the Refuge, Unexpected Wildlife Refuge photo
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Moss on Boundary Trail, Unexpected Wildlife Refuge photo
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Moonlit main pond, Unexpected Wildlife Refuge photo
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Elegant spreadwing damselfly, Unexpected Wildlife Refuge photo
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Racoon on trail camera near Wild Goose Blind, Unexpected Wildlife Refuge photo
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Northern water snake in main pond, Unexpected Wildlife Refuge photo
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House wren near Headquarters, photo by Leor Veleanu
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Luna moth male on porch at Headquarters, Unexpected Wildlife Refuge photo
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Bleeding heart flowering near Headquarters, Unexpected Wildlife Refuge photo
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Northern cricket frog in Miller Pond, Unexpected Wildlife Refuge photo
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Fungi on fallen tree on Boundary Trail, Unexpected Wildlife Refuge photo

Unexpected Wildlife Refuge is a protected natural habitat comprising 767 acres of pristine pine lands, forest, fields, bogs, streams and lakes. It provides a refuge to animals and plants indigenous to southern New Jersey; a place where wildlife can live freely and naturally without fear of being harmed at the hands of human beings. We began as the home of Hope Sawyer Buyukmihci and Cavit Buyukmihci, who dedicated their land to habitat preservation so that native wildlife and habitat could thrive. We are a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) entity, federal ID 23-7025010.
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White-tailed deer on island in main pond, Unexpected Wildlife Refuge photo
The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is the one deer species in New Jersey. As with most wildlife, human usurping of natural habitat has resulted in reduced natural opportunities for food and shelter. As already pointed out elsewhere, the concept of overpopulation – and its corollary, 'overbrowsing' – is specious at best. Although there is no question that human beings are overpopulating the world, we do not use lethal means to control the situation. Our compassion and adherence to our moral principles would not permit this. We have to ask ourselves, what is so different about deer that we abandon our humanity and resort to killing rather than seeking solutions that allow for coexistence or at least tolerance. Further, we compound the situation by recreational feeding of deer, habituating them to human beings and their residences and we eliminate natural means of population control by killing off predators (Anon 2009; Berger et al 2008) or providing supplemental feed during winter.

White-tailed deer in woods, Unexpected Wildlife Refuge trail camera photo
The primary 'conflicts' between deer and people involve the eating of garden plants or commercial crops, collisions with automobiles, the spread of Lyme disease (borreliosis) and so-called overbrowsing of natural habitat. These issues are complex and no single solution can address them adequately. Although they can be mitigated by reducing deer populations in specific circumstances, there is no proof that purposeful killing through hunting or paid killers, for example, is essential nor particularly effective long-term. Humane methods of non-lethal control, when rigorously applied, are just as effective and often less costly. These include fencing, repellents, reproductive control and landscaping using plants not attractive to deer.

In some cases where deer are located in a finite area, contraception may be the best way to keep deer numbers consistent with the carrying capacity of the habitat. Because a reduction in numbers will take time, people need to be patient. Some of the methods that can be considered include immunocontraception (Anon 2015; Rutberg et al 2013) and spaying (Basch 2013; Hendrix 2014).

When deer threaten people's gardens, appropriate fencing and repellents (Andelt et al 1994) can be used. If a fence is tall enough, it can be 100% effective in preventing access by deer (VerCauteren et al 2010). There are explicit instruction sheets on how to install fencing to be effective (Grande et al 2010). In some cases, like in New Jersey, government agencies provide non-lethal solutions, primarily through subsidized fencing (Drake et al 2001). Information on how to apply for the New Jersey program can be found on the State Agriculture Development Committee page. It is important to know the limitations of some repellents (Bíl et al 2018; Kimball et al 2009). People can choose to use plants that are not attractive to deer rather than insisting on those that will continue to create conflicts.

Collisions with cars can be reduced by posting speed limits that take into account area-specific risks to wildlife, adherence to and enforcement of these limits, and driver education about why collisions occur (O'Keefe & Rea 2012). Be aware, however, that certain repellent methods such as warning reflectors (D'Angelo et al 2006), touted by manufacturers, have been shown to be ineffective. Anecdotal data suggest that sometimes hunting may increase collisions because deer leave their normal territories to seek safety elsewhere, crossing roads in the process (Scully 2008).

Lyme disease or borreliosis, although important, is not spread by deer. Deer, as well as other animals, are hosts to the species of tick that sometimes contains the organism that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi). People can be infested by the tick in the same way deer are, by walking through areas where the ticks reside. Wearing protective clothing and using an appropriate repellent can reduce the chance of infestation. The risk of infection from a potentially infectious tick can be further reduced or eliminated entirely by always checking oneself for the presence of ticks and promptly removing them.

In addition to the above and the references below, you can visit - Ithacans for Safe, Ethical, and Rational Approaches to Reducing Deer-Human Conflict. This group has done considerable research on the issue and provides information that can be applied in most situations.

The following references provide non-lethal means of reducing the negative impact of deer on the property of people. They are ordered by publication date, with latest at the top. These are provided in the spirit of urging people to use only non-lethal measures when deer-human conflicts occur, but Unexpected Wildlife Refuge does not necessarily endorse every measure listed:

  1. Anonymous. 2019. Deer Fencing to Reduce Agricultural Crop Damage. Rutgers University, New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. (file copy)
  2. This short document brief discusses fencing, including high-tensile woven fence and portable electric fences. With the latter they recommend using a "trap crop" to keep the deer distracted from the highly valued crops.
    The online version of this document contains a link to a short video on fence installation.
    Maintaining a trap crop such as young soybeans to drawn deer away from high-value crops may enhance the effectiveness of portable electric fencing.
  3. Anonymous. 2007-02-01. "GonaCon™-Birth Control for Deer: Questions and Answers." United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. (accessed 2020-12-12)
  4. The single-shot, multi-year GonaCon™ vaccine will be a useful technique for the management of certain enclosed or urban/suburban wildlife populations, such as deer.
  5. Bíl, Michal; Andrášik, Richard; Bartonicka, Tomáš; Krivánková, Zuzana and Sedoník, Jirí. 2018. "An evaluation of odor repellent effectiveness in prevention of wildlife-vehicle collisions." Journal of Environmental Management 205:209-214. (accessed 2019-04-11)
  6. We applied a Bayesian approach as only a limited numbers of WVC were available. A WVC decrease between 26 – 43% can be expected on the treated road sections. These numbers are, however, up to three-times lower than those claimed by producers of odor preparations.

    Although the study was done in the Czech Republic on roe deer and wild boar, the data are likely to be translatable to other situations.
  7. Perry, Leonard. 2018. EFFECTIVE DEER FENCES. University of Vermont. (file copy)
  8. Useful, brief information on types of fencing that can be used for deterring deer.
  9. Perry, Leonard. 2016. DEER-SCAPING. University of Vermont. (file copy)
  10. Provides succinct information on how to discourage deer from entering yards by using plants that are unattractive to them.
  11. Perry, Leonard. 2015. CHOOSING DEER-RESISTANT LANDSCAPE PLANTS. University of Vermont. (file copy)
  12. Provides information on species of plants that are not palatable or otherwise attractive to deer.
  13. Hendrix, Steve. 2014. "At the NIH, white-tailed deer get sterilized in luxurious surgery rooms." The Washington Post. (accessed 2019-04-11)
  14. Johnson, Heather E.; Fischer, Justin W.; Hammond, Matthew; Dorsey, Patricia D.; Walter, W. David; Anderson, Charles and VerCauteren, Kurt C. 2014. Evaluation of Techniques to Reduce Deer and Elk Damage to Agricultural Crops. Wildlife Society Bulletin 38(2): 358-365. (file copy)
  15. Three temporary, non-lethal methods were evaluated: 1) a polyrope electric fence, 2) Plantskydd (chemical repellent) and 3) a winged fence. The polyrope electric fence was most effective.
    Polyrope electric fences may be a suitable tool in areas where wildlife management agencies want to maintain deer and elk populations but reduce seasonal damage by cervids to high-value crops. In Colorado, use of an effective exclusion technique such as polyrope electric fence could also decrease the need for lethal depredation permits and damage compensation payments, and increase satisfaction among producers and the public.
  16. Basch, Michelle. 2013. "Deer dilemma postscript: Md. spay program shows alternative." WTOP. (file copy)
  17. A research permit from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources allows the approach. In 2011, the program's first year, 32 does were sterilized. 'This alone, by doing the 32 does, will prevent the birthing of probably 300 fawns during the does' eight-year reproductive life, says Feinberg [Enid Feinberg, volunteer president of the nonprofit group Wildlife Rescue, Inc.]...'we found that because the deer are no longer pregnant, they're no longer consuming the amount of food that they were. So the browsing and the food consumption has dropped tremendously without having to do any harm to the deer,' she adds.
  18. Rutberg, Allen T.; Naugle, Ricky E. and Verret, Frank. 2013. "Single-treatment porcine zona pellucida immunocontraception associated with reduction of a population of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)." Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 44(4s):S75-S83. (accessed 2019-04-11)
  19. Most vaccine preparations tested reduced fawning rates by 75% to 95% for at least 1 yr. From 2005 to 2011, deer density on Fripp Island declined by 50%, from 72 deer/km2 to 36 deer/km2, an average annual reduction of 11%.
  20. O'Keefe, Shannon and Rea, Roy V. 2012. "Evaluating ICBC animal–vehicle crash statistics (2006-2010) for purposes of collision mitigation in northern British Columbia." 94 pp. University of Northern British Columbia.
  21. We stress the importance of using these data in the development of driver awareness campaigns and discuss their importance in understanding the ecologies of animals being struck and the development of regional- and species-specific mitigation plans.
  22. Phillips, G.E.; Lavelle, M.J.; Fischer, J.W.; White, J.J.; Wells, S.J. and VerCauteren, K.C. 2012. A novel bipolar electric fence for excluding white-tailed deer from stored livestock feed. Journal of Animal Science 90(11): 4090-4097. (file copy)
  23. Evaluated a special electrified fence that was 1.2 meters tall. They found that it was effective, although they recommended other methods for permanent deterrence.
    ...the fence could be effective as immediate protection of stored feed in winter before a more permanent and effective deterrence strategy, such as woven-wire fencing, could be installed during the subsequent summer. The fence would also be effective for reducing deer depredation of stored feed, as well as gardens, small orchards, or other localized or seasonal resources.
  24. Grande, John; Katz, Larry and Slifer, Geoffrey. 2010. High-Tensile Woven Wire Fences for Reducing Wildlife Damage. Rutgers University, Cooperative Extension. 4 pp. (file copy)
  25. The authors discuss materials and methods to install high-tensile woven wire fencing so that it is effective and relatively maintenance-free.
  26. VerCauteren, Kurt C.; Vandeelen, Timothy R.; Lavelle, Michael J. and Hall, Wayne. 2010. Assessment of Abilities of White-Tailed Deer to Jump Fences. Journal of Wildlife Management 74(6): 1378-1381. (file copy)
  27. Fences that were 2.4 meters (~ 7 feet 11 inches) high (commonly used at captive deer facilities) were 100% effective in preventing deer from clearing them. The next most effective height tested was 2.1 meters and was 85% effective.
  28. Anonymous. 2009. "Wolf reintroduction proposed in Scottish Highland test case." ScienceDaily.
  29. Researchers are proposing in a new report that a major experiment be conducted to reintroduce wolves to a test site in the Scottish Highlands, to help control the populations and behavior of red deer that in the past 250 years have changed the whole nature of large ecosystems.

    …scientists point not just to the effect of large predators in helping to control the populations of grazing animals, but also their behavior. The threat of predation and attack can fundamentally change the movement and activities of grazing animals 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in ways that such approaches as human hunting fail to do.

    The native red deer in Scotland – essentially the same animal as elk in the United States – have not faced predation or fear such as that for 250 years. Deer densities in that country are now thought to be so high they are close to the food-limiting carrying capacity of the land, and have serious consequences on native Scots pine and birch regeneration.
  30. Kimball, Bruce A.; Taylor, Jimmy; Perry, Kelly R. and Capelli, Christina. 2009. "Deer responses to repellent stimuli." Journal of Chemical Ecology 35(12):1461-1470. (accessed 2019-04-11)
  31. These data support previous studies indicating that habituation to odor limits the effectiveness of repellents that are not applied directly to food, while topically-applied irritants and animal-based products produce significant avoidance.
  32. Berger, Kim Murray and Conner, Mary M. 2008. "Recolonizing wolves and mesopredator suppression of coyotes: Impacts on pronghorn population dynamics." Ecological Applications : A Publication of the Ecological Society of America 18(3):599-612. (accessed 2019-04-11)
  33. Thus, wolf restoration holds promise for enhancing ungulates populations by reducing coyote predation rates on neonates of species such as pronghorn, mule deer, and white-tailed deer.

    To the extent that large carnivores exert top-down forces on systems, our results suggest that their loss or removal may result in unanticipated effects on ecological communities that may lead to further decreases in biodiversity.
  34. Scully, Matthew. 2008. "Don't blame the deer." The New York Times. (accessed 2018-03-05) (file copy)
  35. ...the deer spring into busy unfenced roads in flight from hunters. Indeed, a study in Pennsylvania found that car insurance claims for deer-related accidents increase fivefold during hunting season.
  36. D'Angelo, Gino J.; D'Angelo, Joseph G.; Gallagher, George R.; Osborn, David A.; Miller, Karl V. and Warren, Robert J. 2006. "Evaluation of wildlife warning reflectors for altering white-tailed deer behavior along roadways." Wildlife Society Bulletin 34(4):1175-1183. (accessed 2019-04-11)
  37. We concluded that wildlife warning reflectors were ineffective in changing deer behavior such that deer–vehicle collisions might be prevented.
  38. Seamans, Thomas W. and VerCauteren, Kurt C. 2006. Evaluation of ElectroBraid Fencing as a White-Tailed Deer Barrier. Wildlife Society Bulletin 34(1): 8-15. (file copy)
  39. Under the conditions and time duration of this test, the fence was an effective deer barrier.
  40. VerCauteren, Kurt C.; Lavelle, Michael J. and Hygnstrom, Scott E. 2006. A Simulation Model for Determining Cost-Effectiveness of Fences for Reducing Deer Damage. Wildlife Society Bulletin 34(1): 16-22. (file copy)
  41. We describe an interactive, dynamic simulation model that conducts economic analyses and predicts economic benefit associated with fences for crops relative to area and perimeter of protected plot, value of crop, percentage of crop damaged by deer annually prior to fencing, efficacy of fence, and costs of fence materials and labor.
  42. VerCauteren, Kurt C.; Lavelle, Michael J. and Hygnstrom, Scott. 2006. Fences and Deer-Damage Management: A Review of Designs and Efficacy. Wildlife Society Bulletin 34(1): 191-200. (file copy)
  43. This is a review of the scientific literature on which means of fencing is effective in deterring deer. They concluded the following:
    When tolerance for deer penetration is low...wovenwire fence should be the only practiced option. If complete exclusion is not necessary and the cost of fence is an issue, a multistrand, electrified, high-tensile wire fence may be sufficient. For seasonal protection, an affordable and easily installed, electric poly-fence may be a reasonable alternative.
  44. Beringer, Jeff; VerCauteren, Kurt C. and Millspaugh, Joshua J. 2003. Evaluation of an animal-activated scarecrow. Wildlife Society Bulletin 31(2): 492-498. (file copy)
  45. The authors tested the effectiveness of a 'scarecrow' that popped up when triggered by deer. Although effective initially, the deer eventually became habituated to the device. The conclusion is that this method can be useful in the short term.
  46. Drake, David; Grande, John and Lawless, Robert. 2001. An Evaluation: New Jersey's 1998 Supplemental Deer Fence Program. Rutgers University, Cooperative Extension. 8 pp. (file copy)
  47. The authors surveyed farmers who had been recipients of high-tensile woven wire fence and smooth wire to place along the top of installed fencing. They also visited farms where the fencing was installed (by the farmers or by commercial installers) to evaluate the quality of the installations, and made observations on problems they saw. Ninety-nine percent of survey respondents indicated that they experienced crop damage by white-tailed deer prior to installing the fence...After installing the fence, 96% of respondents stated that they experienced a reduction in crop damage, with only 4% of respondents estimating crop losses exceeding $5,000. Forth-eight percent of respondents indicated that they experienced no deer damage once the fence was installed.
  48. Andelt, William F.; Burnham, Kenneth P. and Baker, Dan L. 1994. "Effectiveness of capsaicin and bitrex repellents for deterring browsing by captive mule deer." The Journal of Wildlife Management 58(2):330-334. (accessed 2019-04-11)
  49. ...a 6.2% concentration of Hot Sauce (100 times the concentration labeled for deer) and BGR [Big Game Repellent] reduced (P < 0.05) consumption relative to the control and other repellents. Although the 6.2% concentration of Hot Sauce and BGR were the most effective browsing deterrents, their effectiveness may be relatively short lived if deer are continually exposed to them.
  50. Curtis, Paul D.; Fargione, Michael J. and Richmond, Milo E. 1994. PREVENTING DEER DAMAGE WITH BARRIER, ELECTRICAL, AND BEHAVIORAL FENCING SYSTEMS. Proceedings of the Sixteenth Vertebrate Pest Conference 15: 223-227. (file copy)
  51. Discusses the issues surrounding various fencing schemes. Given that there are more current studies, this reference is mainly for some background.
  52. Jordan, Don M. and Richmond, Milo E. 1992. EFFECTIVENESS OF A VERTICAL 3-WIRE ELECTRIC FENCE MODIFIED WITH ATTRACTANTS OR REPELLENTS AS A DEER EXCLOSURE. Proceedings of the Fifth Eastern Wildlife Damage Control Conference 5: 44-47. (file copy)
  53. The authors evaluated the use of electrified fences, combined with attractants or repellents.
    Data from 116 days indicate that the electric fence with a repellent excluded deer most effectively. Deer penetrated this type of exclosure only once. Electricity and attractant ranked second, and electricity alone ranked third in effectiveness for excluding deer.