Deer Fence Basics
What Is a Deer Fence?
As its name Implies, a deer fence is any fence designed to contain or exclude deer. There are lots of different types. Farmers often use electric fences to keep out deer. Ranchers living on flatlands employ long “high-tensile” steel wire fences with massive braces. And researchers not much concerned with cost have long advocated odd double fences or ones slanted outward at 45 degrees.
All these work to some extent. However, none really fill the bill for the many homeowners and gardeners seeking to prevent deer intrusions. And since these homeowners and gardeners make up the bulk of today’s buyers, it’s worth taking a look at what they want. In brief they want reliable, affordable, low-maintenance, unobtrusive yard and garden deer fences. They don’t want massive braces, electric shocks, or fences that bust their budgets. For these reasons, most home and garden deer fences sold today are simple barrier fences made of strong low-visibility materials.
The Best Deer Fence
Well then, if you aim to protect a yard or garden, What’s the best deer fence for you? The answer varies from case to case, but certain basic principles apply. Unless local rules prevent it, the fence should be at least 7 feet tall (7 feet is generally plenty). The fence should neither be electrified nor installed under tension. The fencing materials should be black, the least obtrusive color. The posts should be metal, and in snow-prone regions should be spaced about 10 feet apart. In areas without rabbits or woodchucks (aka ground hogs) the fencing can be made of strong plastic (polypropylene) with a breaking strength of at least 650 pounds per linear foot; but where these animals are present either a metal skirt (what is called “metal hexagrid” or “steel web” fencing) should be added along the bottom, or else the polypropylene should be fully replaced by this metal hexagrid material.
Keep Deer Out Reliably
To keep deer out reliably from a range of yard and garden settings, one should engage in a sort of dance between length and cost. Briefly, the shorter the fence the more one should be inclined toward polypropylene, with or without a metal skirt; while the longer the fence the more one should favor metal hexagrid (aka steel web) fencing. Thus, poly will often serve for a 100-foot fence, while a thousand-footer will be in greater need of the more expensive but stronger and longer lasting metal hex.
Lyme Disease, Deer Ticks, and Deer Fencing
Lyme disease is a major tick-borne scourge. Research a few years back found it to be diagnosed in somewhere between 240,000 and 440,000 Americans a year and to involve average health costs of nearly $3,000 per diagnosed patient. As these costs suggest, while some cases are minor (especially if treated early), others can have important consequences for the nervous system, heart, and other organs.
Lyme disease is spread by deer ticks (aka black-legged ticks), and deer ticks are carried and spread about by deer. Erecting a yard or garden deer fence can interfere with this process by keeping out the deer. If you just erect a deer fence, over a period of several years the tick population in the enclosed area will decline sharply. And if you combine erection of the fence with lesser measures (spraying for ticks and controlling small rodents) you can get better control and far more immediate results.
Deer Fence Height
Whether Lyme Disease is a problem in your area or not, it’s worth asking how tall a reliable deer fence should be. Careful research by the US Department of Agriculture has shown that hardly any in a large group of herded (panicked) white-tailed deer would leap a 7-foot fence. Meanwhile, our own experience of more than 20 years selling mostly 7-foot deer fences has shown compellingly that white-tailed deer will not leap a 7-foot fence just to get a meal. For those who have any reservations about this we also sell taller deer fences. However, these are significantly more expensive than 7-footers; so, in terms of both cost-effectiveness and reliability there seems no doubt that 7 feet is the best deer fence height.
8-foot Deer Fencing
The same research that found some panicked white-tailed deer would jump a 7-foot fence found that none would jump an 8-footer. This suggests that for those people with lingering uncertainty 8 feet would be the best deer fence height. For this reason we sell 8-foot deer fencing. However, we recognize that the 8-footers have certain disadvantages. First, both the posts and the fencing for an 8-foot yard or garden deer fence are significantly more expensive than those for a 7-footer. And second, while deer fencing of all types is made in 8-foot-tall rolls, none is made in 8.5-foot rolls. This means that an 8-foot fence (unless it is a poly fence supplemented with a metal skirt) must necessarily sacrifice the 6-inch bottom fold used to keep deer from nosing under the fence. And since this is the deer’s favored means of tall fence penetration, establishing the 8-foot height introduces increased vulnerability.
Garden Deer Fences
Deer fences for gardens follow some special rules. First, unless the garden is large they tend to be fairly short. That means that unless the deer pressure is great a polypropylene fence will often do the job. However, if there are any woodchucks or rabbits in the neighborhood they will want to get into the garden. So, if they find a poly fence, they will commonly gnaw small holes that the deer will poke their heads into and enlarge to penetrate the fence. This happens often enough so that anyone with rabbits or woodchucks shouldn’t take the risk and should instead install a metal hexagrid skirt (sometimes called a “rodent barrier”) along the bottom of the fence.
This of course costs money. However, one can also save money on vegetable garden fences because these fences don’t need a suburban or estate look. They do just fine with a farm or ranch appearance and so can use t-posts or angle-iron posts that typically cost less than the round black steel posts that go best in a suburban or estate setting.
Deer Fencing Materials
Several kinds of deer fencing materials are suitable for use in yard and garden deer fences. They include plastic (polypropylene) fencing, metal hexagrid (steel web) fencing, and welded wire (square or rectangular mesh) fencing. The plastic fencing needs to be strong (with a breaking strength of at least 650+ pounds per linear foot) and generally has a mesh size of 1.75 x 2 inches. It has a shorter life and typically requires more maintenance than the other two but is significantly cheaper. The metal hexagrid (steel web) fencing is made of 20-gauge galvanized steel wires woven into a 1-inch hexagonal mesh and coated with black pvc. It has a longer life and lower visibility than the plastic fencing but is more expensive. Welded wire deer fencing usually consists of 14-gauge galvanized steel wires in a rectangular mesh coated with black pvc. It is the strongest of the three (suited to keeping out small herds of deer and excluding elk) but is also the most visible and most expensive.
Invisible Deer Fence
There’s no such thing as an invisible deer fence. One cannot use a radio signal to activate a shock collar the way one does to keep in dogs, because it’s not practical to put shock collars on offending deer. Nor do low-visibility electric fences make sense, because most homeowners and gardeners don’t want a powerful electric fence around their yard or garden. The best one can do is create low-visibility barrier fences strong enough to reliably exclude deer.
Fortunately, strong progress has been made in this area. The original pioneering plastic (polypropylene) deer fencing introduced in the 1980s had very low visibility; and today’s metal hexagrid fencing is even less visible than that. So it’s easy to erect a deer fence with thin black metal posts that fades into near invisibility from distances as short as 10 or 15 feet away.
The term “deer netting” is often used to refer to any flexible deer fencing, most commonly polypropylene deer fencing. However, one must be careful because it can also mean light poly fencing that cannot be relied on to exclude deer. One type known as “deer block” has a 1-inch mesh and serves perfectly well to protect individual shrubs. However, one should not use it on any serious deer fence because the deer can walk right through it. Similarly, various sorts of “economy” plastic fencing sold as deer fencing are not really reliable because they are simply not strong enough. They may discourage deer temporarily, but any sort of serious deer impact can break them. To serve reliably as deer fencing, plastic deer netting needs to have a breaking strength of 650+ pounds per linear foot—and even then one should be prepared for possible breakage and penetration.
This is the classic black polypropylene material introduced in the 1980s for residential deer fencing. Initially it had a breaking strength of 650+ pounds per linear foot and was practically invisible. Since then this grade has been supplemented by stronger (and more visible) grades, partly to reduce deer fence maintenance and partly to compete with emerging metal hexagrid and welded wire fencing. However, these stronger grades have generally kept to the original mesh size of 1.75 x 2 inches.
The original maker of plastic deer fencing, and still the leading producer, is Tenax, an Italian firm. Tenax must currently compete with a variety of other makers that have generally kept to the same black color and the same 1.75 x 2-inch mesh size. Their products, which have somewhat flatter strands than the Tenax products and cost significantly less, are otherwise comparable in terms strength, appearance, and reliability.
Regarding longevity, most plastic deer fencing has an expected life of about 10 years. Partly to compete with longer-lasting metal fencing, sellers have tended to exaggerate the longevity of these plastic products. So buyers need to be cautious, to realize there is no magic formula for plastic deer fencing, and to apply what they already know about how plastic responds to years of outdoor heat, cold, and ultraviolet light to assess the durability of plastic fencing.
Basically, there are three kinds of metal deer fence, one designed for cattle country (long runs of fencing installed on flat ground) and two for residential and garden fences. The cattle country fence, known as “fixed knot” fencing, employs a mesh of thick 12.5-gauge galvanized steel wires, the horizontal wires being installed under high tension. Because of the high tension, this fencing requires massive braces at all corners, ends, grade changes, and gates. This means while it may make sense in cattle country, it’s not practical for the relatively short fences put up around most residential yards and gardens.
The two kinds of metal fencing best suited to residential settings are metal hexagrid (aka steel web) deer fencing and welded wire deer fencing. Both are black, cost more than plastic deer fencing, last longer (about twice as long) as plastic, and are more reliable—especially in areas where woodchucks or rabbits may be present.
Metal hexagrid fencing features woven 1-inch hexagons of 20-gauge galvanized steel wire coated with black pvc. Its expected life is 20+ years. We prefer it to welded wire in most cases because it is cheaper and less visible.
Welded wire deer fencing typically employs 14-gauge galvanized steel wires in a square or rectangular configuration coated with black pvc. It is more expensive than the metal hex but also stronger and better suited to dealing with large numbers of deer.
Trees can make excellent deer fence posts. They should be near the fence line, healthy, at least 6 inches in diameter at a height of 7 feet, and without branches up to that height on the far side (toward the deer) or only with branches there that you are willing to remove. Finally, they should not be specimen trees to which you are unwilling to apply U-nails, because these will be needed to attach the deer fencing to the tree.
In contrast, wooden posts tend to make poor deer fence posts. People sometimes install pressure-treated 4x4s or 5 to 6-inch rounds, which are suitably strong and cheap. However, they are not a natural part of the landscape. Also, they are cumbersome to handle, time-consuming to install (they should go at least 3 feet into the ground, 4 feet on the corners), and highly visible. Therefore, other things being equal, opt for black metal posts.
Metal posts suited to deer fences include black angle-iron (aka angle steel) posts, black studded steel t-posts weighing between 1.25 and 1.5 pounds per linear foot, and round steel posts typically 1-5/8 inches in diameter that are galvanized and coated with black pvc. All should go 2 feet into the ground (deeper if the soil is loose or sandy) and should be spaced 10 feet apart in snow-prone areas. In areas with no significant snow, space them up to 15 feet apart on metal hex or welded wire fences and up to 20 feet apart on plastic fences.
Both the angle-iron posts and the t-posts have a farm/ranch look that goes well with garden fences but is not suitable for a suburban yard or estate fence. Oddly, the t-posts tend to be less expensive than the angle-iron posts. However, they are hard to find in black and are often difficult to find in the right length (at least 2 feet longer than the fence height).
The round black 1-5/8-inch posts are sold with or without drive sleeves, these being 2.5-foot sleeves installed directly in the ground, into which the posts are then inserted. Generally, posts with sleeves are more expensive than posts alone. Don’t get posts with sleeves if your soil has lots of rocks or roots, because installing the post sleeves is actually harder than installing posts without sleeves under these conditions.
Deer Fence Gates
It’s hard to devise a low-cost homemade gate that will admit people while reliably excluding deer. Therefore, one should get a gate kit (sold by all leading deer fence vendors) or should spend the time and money needed to build an effective custom gate.
Regarding the gate kits, the ones we know about create three kinds of gates: access gates from 3 to 7 feet wide for admitting people and machinery like mowers and rototillers; one-door driveway (vehicle) gates 8 to 16 feet wide; and two-door driveway gates 8 to 20 feet wide. All these kits generally come with effective pictorial assembly instructions, and while they’re not cheap they’re worth the price.
Deer Fence Kits
If you know the features of the fence you want (its length, height, number and width of gates, type of fencing, number of posts) then getting a deer fence kit is a good way to ensure you have all the parts you need. You can purchase all our McGregor Fence kits (polypropylene, metal hexagrid, and welded wire kits) in lengths of 100, 200, 300, 400, or 500 feet. All these kits come with detailed installation instructions (supplementing the videos available on our site), and all are available with accessories (top support wires, extra posts, gates, and braces) that you can order on the same page as the kit. In general, if you are not familiar with deer fences, getting a kit can save you time and effort.
Deer Proof Fence
The last thing anyone unfamiliar with deer fence wants is to take the time and trouble to build the fence only to find it’s not proof against the deer. So don’t cut corners. Build it tall enough, with strong posts and fencing. Use a reliable vendor who knows deer fences. If in doubt, get a kit to make sure you have everything you need. Don’t hesitate to call for advice or, if you have a large project, to get a custom quote. Remember, planning a deer proof fence isn’t rocket science. It just involves some unusual variables (established by the deer) and some mostly familiar parts used in unfamiliar ways.
Oddly enough, if you’re having your fence installed, it’s best not to have a fence installer do it. That’s because most fence installers know lots about chain link and stockade fences but little about deer fences. They’ll rightly charge more than a landscaper or handyman for specialized knowledge you don’t need; and they’ll tend to make mistakes thinking they already know how to do it. Instead, you are generally better off having a landscaper or handyman comfy with English do it. Have him watch our deer fence installation videos, the best in the business, which take about an hour. Have him use our detailed written instructions for backup. And don’t hesitate to have him or yourself call us with questions (508-888-8305), which is what we’re here for. In combination, these things are the best recipe we know for creating a deer proof fence.