Deer Situations & Solutions

Doe and fawn © Sandy Selensky
Doe and fawn © Sandy Selensky

The white-tailed deer has become controversial because of its burgeoning population. Deer not only do damage to trees, shrubs, and gardens, but can pose a health and safety risk.

Population in Massachusetts

According to Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, there is approximately 85,000 to 95,000 deer statewide, with densities ranging from about 10 per square mile in northwestern Massachusetts to 45 to 55 per square mile on Nantucket Island.

Yet in the early 1900's, there were fewer than 1,000 deer in Massachusetts. The population boom in recent decades can be attributed largely to two reasons:

  • The reforested but suburbanized Massachusetts landscape, which is ideal deer habitat. It provides shelter, breeding areas in fragmented woodlands that are interspersed with open areas, and delicious (for deer) ornamental shrubbery.
  • Predation continues to decline with recreational hunting losing popularity in rapidly growing developed areas.

Damage Caused by Deer

When deer feed on shrubs or saplings their damage can be identified by the torn or ragged appearance at the end of branches. Their droppings and hoof prints are usually visible in feeding areas.


Fencing is the best long-term solution for coping with deer on property where they are not welcome. You can either fence the whole property to keep the deer from entering, or place fencing around individual plantings.

  • Whole Property: Fencing must be at least 8 feet high and angled outward from the property to prevent the deer from jumping over. It should be constructed of heavy netting, fox wire, chicken wire, or rows of wire spaced 12 inches apart.
  • Individual Plants: When only a few plants need protecting, place 6-foot high stakes around the plants and wrap with chicken wire, bird netting (found at nurseries or farm supply stores), or burlap to discourage the deer.


Repellents can be sprayed on plants and shrubs to protect them from browsing deer, but the expense of these products makes them practical only to protect valuable shrubs and not a whole property.

Two repellents that work well to discourage deer are Big Game Repellent (BGR), made with egg solids and Hinder, made with ammonium soaps. Remember that repellents must be reapplied periodically to be effective and that deer are capable of browsing on plants at a height of six feet.

Homemade Remedies

Another option to stop deer from nibbling on shrubs is to hang bars of soap on the branches. Studies indicate that Dial and Irish Spring seem to be the most successful in repelling deer. Cut the bars of soap in halves or thirds and, using string or mesh bags, hang on branches three feet apart.

Reasons Not to Feed Deer

People often believe that by providing an alternative food, such as hay, the deer will be discouraged from eating shrubs. This is rarely the case. And it can do more harm than good. Learn More

Fawns Mistaken as Orphans

Fawn © Molly Stark
Fawn © Molly Stark

People encountering fawns during the first weeks after birth often assume the fawn is orphaned, remove it from the area (and its mother) and take it to a wildlife rehabilitation center to be cared for. The result is that thousand of fawns across the country are needlessly orphaned each spring and have to be euthanized.

Deer & Public Health

Deer are a favorite host of deer ticks (Ixodes dammini), which carry and transmit lyme disease. Learn more about Lyme disease and how to prevent it.

Deer & the Law

Relocating wildlife is illegal in Massachusetts. It is detrimental to the well being of wildlife as well as the public. Learn More

Salvage Permits

The number of deer/car collisions in Massachusetts is estimated to at between 2,000 and 3,000 a year. Of those, the driver or passenger claims 400 to 600.

A permit to salvage a road-killed deer can be issued only to the driver or a passenger of the responsible vehicle, provided they are residents of Massachusetts. Before a salvage permit is issued an eligible person must comply with the following procedures:

  • Notify local police of the accident to verify the animal's cause of death
  • Within 24 hours of the accident notify the Environmental Police at 800-632-8075 of the intent to salvage the carcass and provide name and address and the time and place that the deer was killed.
  • The deer carcass must then be transported, within 48 hours, to a field office of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, the Division of Law Enforcement, or to and Environmental Police Officer (EPO) at time and place agreed upon.
  • The EPO or field office director will then tag the deer and issue a salvage permit. The tag must remain on the deer until all edible parts are consumed.

A salvage deer permit does not allow the deer carcass, or parts thereof, to be sold, traded, or exchanged.