Trying to find the best fence to keep deer off your property is a bit like trying to find the best dog for yourself at the Westminster Dog Show. There’s lots to choose from, including some odd offerings. But the dogs most highly touted at the show may not match your specific needs, and in fact the best for you may be more like some friendly mutt watching the show that’s not even in the running. So it’s worth making an organized attempt to sort things out.
We specialize in deer fences to protect yards and gardens. But other places like farms, orchards, and vineyards need protection against deer. That being the case, it seems worth considering those jobs before homing in on the best fences for yards and gardens.
Electric Deer Fences for Farms
Let’s start with electric fences. These protect croplands against deer all over rural America. They typically need to administer strong shocks to deter deer, offer only incomplete protection, and require regular monitoring and maintenance. None of this deters budget-conscious farmers because electric wires tend to be less expensive than barrier fences. And if you require length (because you’re raising a spread-out land-hungry crop like corn) chances are that an electric fence is the best type for you.
There are myriad variations – AC and battery-powered chargers; metal wire, polywire, polyrope, and various widths of polytape; wires unbaited or baited with attractants or repellants; metal, wood, pvc, or fiberglass posts; and all sorts of configurations on one set of vertical posts, multiple lines of posts, or posts set into the ground at an angle. Welcome to Westminster.
However, if a lot of length (over a quarter mile) is going to be required, as on most farms, the effective choices are relatively few. Our picks for this situation: Get a 1.5 to 3-joule AC-powered charger and use however much undergate and hookup wire you need to reach from the nearest AC outlet to the bare wires. Use 3/8 or ½-inch fiberglass posts spaced about 30 feet apart to create a fence 5 feet tall. String 5 lines of wire spaced 1 foot apart. If the ground is likely to be dry part of the year, charge every other wire and tie the uncharged wires into your grounding system. Alternatively, if the ground generally has some moisture year-round, charge every wire. Use no attractive or repellant baits because they are not necessary and because re-baiting a long fence every 2 weeks or so is no fun. For details on these and lots of other choices browse an old but excellent article by VerCauteren et al. (see Further Reading below).
An exception to all this is the case where the farm is small (typically less than a quarter-mile around) or where the crop yield per acre is very large, such as in orchards and vineyards. In these cases a barrier fence rather than an electric one is likely to be best – because it is cost-effective and more reliable than its electric cousins. (See Best Fences for Orchards and Vineyards below.)
The Best Fences for Yards and Gardens
Electric fences well-suited to farms do a poor job protecting yards and gardens against deer. To begin with, most homeowners don’t want charged electric wires around their yard or garden, and many residential communities have local ordinances that ban them. Other alternatives such as fences made of 12.5-gauge high-tensile wire or welded wire have serious problems serving residential homes. That’s partly because they’re highly visible – giving the protected yard or garden a “Stalag 17“ look. Also, most yards and gardens lack the size and flatness needed to justify putting high-tensile wires under tension, and without tension the resulting structure looks as floppy as a rag doll. Beyond that, both high-tensile and welded wire fences handle grade changes poorly. So for all these reasons they seem a poor answer for protecting yards and gardens.
That’s why experts developed other answers. The first answer was polypropylene fencing. Not flimsy stuff like “Deer Block” that deer can walk through but strong polypropylene with a breaking strength of at least 650 pounds per foot. This fencing was barely visible, looked neat, and kept out deer. True, a deer charging a strong poly fence full tilt could break it. And occasionally a doe, finding her customary path blocked, would turn her nose into a sort of fist and pound away at the fence for hours, until it broke. Fortunately, both problems were and are relatively rare.
But the fence experts found another more common problem. Rabbits and woodchucks (aka ground hogs) have flat grinding teeth well-suited to making holes in plastic fencing. When confronted with a strong poly fence they would happily create small entrances for themselves near the bottom. That was no game stopper for the experts, because their aim was not to keep out small animals but deer. However, they found to their dismay that the deer didn’t want to go over a tall deer fence but under it. So the deer would often nose about looking for weaknesses toward the bottom. When they discovered one of those small holes they would commonly force their heads in, break a few corner bonds or lever up the fencing; and then there was a deer in the enclosure, That was a game stopper.
To deal with this, professional installers employed what they called “rodent barriers” – actually two-foot-wide strips of what we now know as metal hexagrid fencing (20-gauge galvanized wire woven into a 1-inch hexagonal mesh and coated with black pvc) – installing them along the bottom of the fence. Thus armored to a height of at least 18 inches, the fencing was now proof against rabbit and woodchuck holes.
One day a trouble-shooter for a leading deer fence installer saw something interesting. He observed that the metal hexagrid skirt applied over the poly fencing was hardly more visible than the poly fencing alone. He therefore reasoned that it would make sense to develop full-sized metal hexagrid fencing to replace the poly, which is what he did.
This has led to the best yard and garden deer fencing in the world. Stronger than poly and less visible, a pure metal hexagrid fence looks well when installed manually (not under high tension). It is easy to install, just about as easy as polypropylene. And under just about all conditions, irrespective of rabbits and woodchucks, it has proven invulnerable to deer. It is more expensive, typically about twice the cost of strong polypropylene fencing, but it lasts about twice as long. And since posts, gates, small gear, and labor are also part of the investment, replacing poly fencing with metal hexagrid fencing adds only a fraction to the overall price. So if one is looking for a strong, low-visibility, long-lasting barrier, this is clearly the best fence to buy for excluding deer from yards and gardens.
The Best Fences for Orchards and Vineyards
Orchards and vineyards are farms. But they’re farms with high yields per acre on relatively small amounts of land. That’s not to say that any given orchard of vineyard is small, but rather that the size of the average orchard or vineyard is much smaller than, say, the size of the average farm that raises corn. That makes orchards and vineyards much easier to enclose, because their perimeters are much smaller. And since the yield per acre is high, it makes economic sense not just to reduce deer damage but to end it. So, while electric fences sometimes have their place, those with orchards and vineyards have a strong incentive to invest in barrier deer fences that can end deer damage altogether.
If the perimeter is large (say more than a quarter-mile) and the land is flat, consider installing a fixed knot or solid lock deer fence under high tension. If there are some grade changes or more than the usual number of gates and corners, think about installing polypropylene with a rodent barrier or pure metal hexagrid fencing.
Similarly, if the perimeter is small consider polypropylene with a rodent barrier or pure metal hexagrid fencing. Both of these cope well with gates, corners, and grade changes, so these matters are not an issue. The poly with a rodent barrier will cost a bit less, while the pure metal hexagrid will involve less maintenance and will last about twice as long.
Beaulieu D. What are the different types of deer fencing? (updated 6/26/2019). The Spruce. https://www.thespruce.com/what-types-of-deer-fencing-are-available-2132105
Perry L. Effective deer fences. The Green Mountain Gardener. https://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/deerfences.html
VerCauteren KC, Lavelle MJ, Hygnstrom S. Fences and deer-damage management: A review of designs and efficacy. Wildlife Society Bulletin 34 (1) 2006. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/nwrc/publications/06pubs/vercauteren062.pdf
By Jonathan Leonard, Manager, McGregor Fence Company LLC. Copyright © 2020.