How to Attract Deer to Your Yard

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While many people choose to attract deer through hunting or baiting, others simply want to welcome these wonderful critters into their backyards. And why not? Thankfully, there are more than a few surefire ways to attract deer to your yard in a humane, sustainable fashion.

Deer will typically head to your yard if there’s a safe source of food and water. However, they are also exceptionally shy creatures, meaning they will benefit from shaded plots where they can feel less threatened.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at a few great ways in which you can start bringing curious deer into your yard.

Why should I attract deer to my yard?

First and foremost, deer are beautiful creatures. Many of us only ever hope to see a few scampering around in the wild. However, with a wild yard, you may even be able to view these gorgeous animals on your own turf. Deer can be extremely calming creatures – very gentle to watch, though we should never try to scare them by getting up too close.

Encouraging deer to your yard could help to keep both local deer populations fed and fighting fit, as well as to keep your wild plants, weeds, and grass in check. However, with this, there are downsides to this arrangement.

Things to consider before attracting deer

Attracting deer to your yard may seem like a wonderful idea. However, keep in mind, again, that a deer-friendly yard is likely to be bereft of plants, grass, and other greenery. If you have any favorite blooms or vegetation, inviting a deer or two to lunch might not be the best option.

What’s more, while deer can be extremely wary and will likely flee if they witness a threat, they can get very aggressive – particularly the males of the species – if they feel their lives are at stake. Even if you pose no harm, getting too close to a deer could trigger a fight or flight response. Intriguingly, they even rely on call tone and pitch to decide whether to mate or to flee!

Therefore, it pays to make sure your children, pets, and/or anyone vulnerable are far out of their way – they will charge if you get too close.

Unfortunately, while rare, deer can also bring deadly ticks to your garden. Ticks that carry Lyme disease, for example, could latch onto you, your family, or your pets if you are not careful. Therefore, do not start attracting deer to your yard unless you’re aware of the potential health problems that may arise.

Making your yard deer-friendly

For example, before considering how to attract deer to your yard without baiting, you will need to ensure that your garden space is considered ‘deer-friendly’. That is, it needs to be outwardly appealing to them before you start adding food and water into the bargain.

One of the best ways to attract deer into your garden is to consider rewilding your lawn. This means letting your grass, plants, and vegetation overgrow. When controlled, this can be a fantastic way for you to attract other creatures, too (such as butterflies and bees). However, the humble deer will love wandering into a green space with long vegetation they can munch on.

Therefore, an easy way to welcome deer is to grow your plants and grass particularly long at the far edge of your yard, towards where deer are likely to cross over. Be sure to remove panels in any perimeters or fencing providing you feel safe to do so, and have relevant permissions. This way, deer will have easy access into your yard and won’t be repelled by fence blockades – they can wander in and out as they may please.

What’s more, it is a great idea to give deer as much space as possible. That means staying clear. Human activity or pet activity will almost certainly trigger deer fight or flight responses, whether or not it is intentionally aggressive. Therefore, keep movement, sound, and light display to a minimum. Keeping clear of deer is also a safety measure for you, too – as if one particular specimen chooses to ‘fight’ over ‘flight’, you may suffer an injury or worse.

Bizarrely, a study conducted in 2016 found that deer are the deadliest animals in the US. It’s extremely rare that an animal will cause any kind of fatality (there is a one in 1.3 million chance of deer killing you), but it’s fascinating that deer kill more people each year than alligators, bears, sharks, wolves, coyotes, and mountain lions!

Deer enjoy shaded cover where they can feel safe. Therefore, an ideal spot may be to welcome them into your yard under a large oak tree. As you’ll discover below, oak trees are particularly useful in helping to welcome deer for more than just shade, too.

Where am I most likely to attract deer in the US?

Data on where the most deer are likely to congregate across the states vary, though hunting experts believe the following are host to the most deer per square mile:

  • Alabama
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Wisconsin

Of these, Mississippi is said to be prime deer country, with around 38 deer per square mile expected on average. Of course, deer are widespread across the US, too – but if you live in any of the eight states above, you have more chances of welcoming these animals into your wild yard than most.

Is it legal to attract deer to my yard?

Depending on where you live in the US, it may not be legal to feed deer at all, let alone welcome them into your yard. Therefore, it’s an excellent idea to check your state’s regional rules before you consider leaving anything out for potential visitors. 

Research suggests that the following states are likely to be more stringent with deer feeding, and even ban deer feed outright (especially through baiting):

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

Luckily, there are no crossovers with the eight most deer-populated states as listed earlier in this guide.

Do flowers or plants attract deer?

Deer love to eat plants and a wide variety of vegetation. However, there are a few favorites on their list which you’ll likely want to scatter across the perimeter of your wild yard if you wish to keep them coming back. Plants that attract deer can include:

  • Clematis
  • Sunflowers
  • Petunias
  • Daylilies
  • Chicory
  • Alfalfa
  • Geraniums

Generally, deer will prefer shrubs and perennials over other types of plants and flowers. They love to snack on fruits such as elderberries – edible plants, in general, are great deer attractants. But have you considered planting trees to attract deer, too?

Attracting deer with trees

As briefly mentioned above, deer love feeling safe, secure, and shaded. Therefore, a big enough tree that gives nice coverage will likely attract these animals more than thinner growths with sporadic leaf canopies.

Trees that attract deer will normally offer fruit or acorns – there often needs to be an edible treat in the bargain for them. Deer love oak trees because they often sprawl out large enough to shade them and provide delicious acorns for them to nibble among the undergrowth. Therefore, if you already have an oak tree or two growing in your yard, you are a few steps ahead of the game.

Plum trees and cherry trees are also considered assured bets when attracting deer – the promise of sweet fruit is hard for them to ignore. The same applies to pear trees, apple trees, and persimmon – the latter of these is great at producing fruit extremely swiftly, too, meaning your deer will have plenty to eat in no time at all. 

What are food plots?

As you may know by now, deer are primarily motivated to visit yards and new areas with the promise of food, and with enough space that they can feel safe from predators. To further encourage deer to visit your yard and keep coming back, why not consider setting up food plots?

Food plotting is somewhat akin to creating grazing patches for deer. This means that you are essentially selecting an area of your garden or yard where you grow deer-friendly plants that are both safe and appealing for your visitors.

Ideally, a deer food plot should be replete with edible plants, fruits, and vegetation that’s at least a little different from what you’d expect from the local area. This means that your deer visitors can expect a wider variety when they come and feed. For example, if you plant a variety of turnips – and there’s already a stronger turnip plot close by in the neighborhood – you’re going to be competing.

Make sure, therefore, to do a little research on your local area and local deer habits before you start planting crops or vegetables. Why not strike up a conversation with local farms or conservation experts?

Your food plots should contain a variety of healthy crops and plants, seeds, fruit, and more. For example, as mentioned, turnips are wonderful deer feed – as are soybeans, corn, and acorns. 

A food plot should be towards the edge of your wild yard where you first welcome deer beyond the perimeter. However, you should ensure that this area is away from anywhere that you’re likely to experience loud noises. For example, never start a food plot close to a road or sidewalk.

Food plots don’t have to be enormous spaces of land – around 1,000 square feet or more is likely to be ideal, however. As with any vegetable and plant garden, you’ll need to make sure you fertilize and feed your plot regularly to keep everything growing.

Should I stock up on salt lick?

Salt lick is a great deer-friendly resource that will attract any animals looking for a tasty treat that they can gently lick and nibble at over time. Some salt and mineral licks are apple-flavored – and you can attract deer with molasses in these licks, too. 

However, if you are keen to plant or place salt licks in your yard, be aware that salt can kill plants and vegetation – meaning you need to be particularly careful with where you plan out their location. It’s also worth remembering that deer digging around and nibbling for salt lick can create debris and cause a mess – so, again, be ready to tidy up again afterwards!

On top of all this salt and fresh food, don’t forget that your deer will also need somewhere reliable they can drink from. Be sure to fill a large pool or trough with fresh water for them each day. The promise of fresh H2O will, again, assure them they can rely on you!

What else can I use to attract deer to my yard?

As you may already know, hunters and trackers use baits and lures to attract deer. However, many people find baiting cruel, and as mentioned above, such efforts may even be illegal depending on the state you live in. However, there are a few treats and natural attractants that deer will flock to time after time.

As mentioned, salt lick is a great starting point. However, did you know that you can also attract deer with peanut butter? While artificial flavors and added sugar must be avoided, organic mixes can prove to be extremely tasty and are easy to smear on trees in your yard. Deer will be attracted by both the smell and the taste, as well as the trees themselves!

Deer are also attracted by strong smells and scents. Generally, as mentioned, sweet smells from fruits are winning combinations – however, attracting deer with vanilla extract smeared on trees is also a great idea.

The main point of focus for scents and smells is that deer will bolt at the first whiff of a predator – even a human! Therefore, it may be worth investing in humane, organic deer attracting scents from a local store. Some are developed to mimic the smell of deer urine – not particularly nice for you to smell but spread liberally across your food plot and close to the perimeter, it’s likely you will start seeing deer emerging into your yard.

Is it difficult to attract deer to a yard?

Attracting deer to any yard can be a tricky process that requires balance. Given that deer are more likely than most animals to ‘fight or fly’, you need to establish a wild zone in your yard that’s as natural as possible. As mentioned, this means letting your garden grow to its full natural potential and to ensure that you stay as far away from any food plots as possible.

However, deer are absolutely joyous to watch! They are extremely photogenic – and providing you give them enough of a mix of edible plants and fruit to enjoy over the year, there’s no reason why you won’t be able to bring them back to your garden again and again.

About author
Robert has been an avid birdwatcher pretty much his entire life. Living in the suburbs he does his best to bring wild birds into his backyard. He currently has 13+ bird feeders in his yard and also raises and races homing pigeons. Robert writes part-time for Wild Yards, mostly about the subject he cares most about - birds.

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