Rebecca Francis
Sustainability Coordinator
37 Main Street East
Huntsville, ON
P1H 1A1

Phone: 705-789-1751 ext. 2366
Fax: 705-788-5153

Map to Office Location
Email Rebecca

two deer standing amongst a snowy forest
photo by Les Tihor


"Don't Feed the Deer!" Brochure

Community member Kathy Kay noticed a problem with feeding deer in town and approached the Sustainability Committee with the idea of making a brochure to educate people about the issue. We teamed up with Kathy and the Muskoka Conservancy to write a brochure that educates and provides solutions. Download an electronic copy of the brochure below. Use the contact information on the right side of this page to request hard copies.

Brochure: Don't Feed the Deer

three deer in winter forest

photo by Les Tihor

White-tailed deer are commonly seen in Muskoka and feeding them in winter is a popular pastime for some. Is feeding deer in winter the right thing to do?

Don't deer get hungry in winter?

Unless it's an especially cold winter, deer are well adapted to cope with winter conditions. Here' s how:

Deer spend  the fall feeding and building thick fat reserves

Deer congregate in groups over the winter and can be found in conifer forests. This heavy tree cover reduces the amount of snow on the ground and make it easier for deer to move around. The insulation from the tree cover makes it warmer in these forests

During poor winter weather, they spend a lot of time bedded down and make use of a network of trails in the deep snow. Doing so lowers their energy demand and conserves their fat reserves.

Normal winter food for deer are woody stems and twigs. Although these foods do not have a high nutritional value, deer are adapted to this diet and still survive winter.

Top 5 reasons why feeding deer is a bad idea

  1. Physiology: In most winters, deer simply do not need to be fed as they are built to cope with winter conditions just fine.
  2. Roads: Feeding deer draws them across roads where they risk injury and death from accidents with cars. People are often hurt in these accidents.
  3. Disease & Parasites: Access to artificial foods can cause metabolic changes and lead to feeding diseases associated with a rich diet.
  4. Conflict: Deer often become aggressive towards each other, sometimes causing stress and injury.
  5. Dependency & Cost: Deer often become dependent on the artificial food given to them. Landowners then have a commitment to continue feeding to the end of the winter which can become very expensive.

Tips to co-exist respectfully

Deer visit year-round. Once the snow is gone, there are ways to have a garden and appreciate the deer too. Keep reading for tips to try at home.

Top 5 ways to discourage deer

  1. Fencing: Deer can jump up to 2.5 metres high!
  2. Wire or plastic mesh cages: Secure them over vulnerable plants.
  3. Repellents: Buy a commercial repellent or make your own (see below for recipes).
  4. Motion Sensors: Sprinklers, noise devices, or light sensors can startle deer.
  5. Gardening: Plant your garden with plants deer don't like (see below for some suggestions).

Homemade deer repellents

  • a. Blend together 500 ml of water and 2 eggs. Spray on plants with hand sprayer.
  • b. Blend together grated ginger, minced garlic and milk
  • c. Mix 56 grams of cayenne pepper with 1.8 kg of bone meal.  Cayenne can also be used alone.  Shake this mixture on or around plants you want to protect.
  • d. Human hair (from a hair salon or barber shop) in nylon stockings hung around your garden can be effective.

Deer like some plants less than others (note: deer have not read this list!)

Salad for deer:

hostas, phlox, day lilies, hydrangeas, clematis, cosmos, petunias, impatiens, deciduous shrubs, mountain ash, fruit trees, serviceberries, dogwoods, cedar, hemlock

Not as appetizing for deer:

daisy, geranium, iris, blackeyed susan, chrysanthemum, daffodil, foxglove, hyacinth, iceland poppy, lavender, lily of the nile,  oriental poppy, snowflake, zinnia, marigolds,  alyssum, most herbs, dusty miller, spirea, lilac, most conifers, plants with thorns, fuzzy or velvety leaves or a strong taste

Part of the beauty and responsibility that comes with living in Muskoka is living alongside wildlife. Appreciate deer from a distance.