Dealing with Deer Paths
Both polypropylene and metal deer fences can deal reasonably effectively with minor deer paths–especially if they are strengthened to resist bottom penetration, direct assaults, and jumping in the area where the fence encounters the deer path. This is not true, however, of major deer paths, where the path is clearly marked and commonly flattened to bare ground. A new deer fence that crosses such a path will encounter so much deer pressure from deer accustomed to passing through that the fence is likely to need ongoing heavy maintenance, and if the fence is plastic the deer are likely to break through.
In such a situation it often pays to give the deer their path. Design your deer fence with an entrance for the deer where it intersects the path, and then build sections of the fence along both sides of the path until you reach the point where the path exits the protected area. It may not be necessary to follow all of the old path. Behind the entrance, it may be possible to divert the path in ways convenient to you. But simply blocking a major deer path invites trouble–even if one installs metal hexagrid fencing supplemented by an electric fence. Such a system may well succeed in blocking the deer temporarily; but it will also tend to generate heavy deer pressure, create periodic problems, and involve high maintenance costs for a considerable period of time.
Deer Fence Maintenance
Many deer fence owners have never become attuned to maintenance the way car owners have. The typical new car buyer doesn’t say “I’ve invested a good deal in this equipment, so now let it maintain itself.” But that is precisely what many new deer fence owners seem to say. In general, maintaining a new fence is not so involved or costly as maintaining a new car. But there are certain basic things that must be done, and if they are not done the fence’s effectiveness will diminish and the fence itself may fail.
To begin with, all deer fences need to be periodically inspected. Angle-iron posts need to be inspected for rust every 6 months or so (except in very dry areas) and touched up with rust-preventive paint. Polypropylene fences must be searched for the small holes that rabbits and woodchucks make, so that these can be repaired before deer find and enlarge them. Whether the fence is polypropylene or metal, a lane 6 feet out from it in both directions needs to be kept clear of branches and encroaching vegetation. In addition, all deer fences need to be kept free of vines and fallen limbs, and any place along the fence where things have come apart as a result of deer assault or other events needs to be repaired. This is a significant point–because it turns out that when deer get inside a well-built fence it is often because a tree or dead limb has come down on a section of the fence, and the deer have simply stepped over both the offending tree or branch and the fence.
Vines growing on the fence are of special concern, and it is not enough to merely cut them at the base and kill them–for dead vines can catch snow and ice in winter to an extent that the weight causes even a metal fence to buckle. Of course, extensive vine growth is hard to pull out in summer without damaging the fence, so in this circumstance the best tactic is first to cut the vines at the bottom. Then come back a few days later, when the leaves have died, and extract the dead vines from the fence.
Other common-sense maintenance activities are as follows: Inspect the fence after any high wind. Following winter storms, especially ice storms, inspect the fence to make sure it is still up, and remove any accumulated snow and ice–something that should be done gingerly in the case of a polypropylene fence in order to avoid damaging the fence. Also, remember to inspect all monofilament lines once a year or so and to tighten any that have stretched.
All this sounds like more work than it is. With rare exception the inspection and repair activities outlined above take little time. However, they are vital. Failure to perform them invites failure of the fence. On the positive side, if a properly installed deer fence is well inspected and maintained, it will generally perform well and will defend reliably against deer for many years.