Deer Fence

Oh deer, what will the fencing be?

While I have always gardened in areas that were populated by deer, it was not a significant problem until I started the garden in Oceanside. Other places would have one or two that would wander by once in a blue moon, but here, we see groups of them almost every day. The damage they do is considerable.  What they don’t eat, they trample. At least we can be thankful that the local elk population does not pay us a visit.

When you read the literature, some tell you that you need 8′ tall fences – so that it looks like a maximum security prison! Others say that you need solid fences to stop them from seeing what is on the other side. That would completely block out any borrowed views – and we certainly have a rather special one that we don’t want to block from anywhere. The Pacific Ocean and Three Arch Rocks are perhaps one of the best water features you can imagine. Still others recommend using a bunch of smelly chemicals (that need replacing after it rains and that is almost daily during spring), or to plant things they don’t eat. They may all work, but there are problems with each of them. Over time, I have taken a different approach, and while this may only work for my deer, that is good enough for me.

Changing behavior

When you observe deer, you quickly learn some traits about them. They are creatures of habit, and they tend to follow the same route every time they pass through. Break that pattern and that can be used to your advantage. This happens not just with an individual deer, but with their offspring, because they too are taught the best routes.

The answer is of course fencing, but the problem is – I don’t like fences. They enclose, hide, and segregate. Solid fences are, in my mind, not the way to go. So I started to see how minimal a fence could be and the impact it would have on them.

First attempt

Deer Fence
Deer Fence, simple rails.

First, I tried 8′ 4″x4″ posts with simple 2″ X 2″ rails, spaced at 18″. This was when I learned how agile deer are. They could easily step through those rails, even jump through them at high speed when I was chasing them off – without even touching the rails. I brought the lower rails closer, giving them a 12″ spacing and that caused them to have second thoughts. They would not climb through, but they would still fly out the ones at the middle heights when threatened.


While deer fences are meant to be 8′ tall to be effective, I have never seen them jump more than about 4′ up the fence, unless they are at a run. When deer pass by, they are grazing. They are not running, and they have their heads down (unless they are eating something high up.)

Given the property is on a steep slope, maintaining a consistent height is not easy. I tried a few ways to deal with the slope and initially angled some of the top rails. With too many angles, this looked messy, so with the latest fence section, I tried a more angular approach and I prefer how that looks. An irregular height seems to confuse the deer. Perhaps it makes it difficult for them to decide how tall it is? Certainly not the expert, but it appears to work.

Deer Fence
Deer Fence, slanted top and added lattice.

The fence did have another problem. The simple 2″ x 2″ rails did not provide a lot of support for climbing plants, and I did want to capitalize on another habit of the deer which is blocking the view from them. I decided to do this with a strip of lattice, 2′ tall about 18″ off from ground level. That means that it is at eye level while they are grazing and thus appears to be more of a solid barrier.

Final design

Deer Fence
Deer Fence with square angles

At this point, I knew I was onto something and have been extending this style of fence around the property when I find a place they are coming in. I expect I will have it all the way around eventually. I like the esthetics of the fence and it appears to work. Last week, we had a lot of snow that persisted for several days. This helped to confirm that it is indeed working. I could see deer tracks in places where they would normally have entered the yard, and they found a new path, leaving all of my plants safe.

I would love to hear what you think and I will update this post as I continue to learn and perfect the minimal fence.

Related Plants

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.