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Deer Fly Control – How to Get Rid of Deer Flies

Whether you're working or relaxing outside, being dive bombed by deer flies stinks. We'll share some tips for deer fly control and repellents to keep those blood suckers away.

deer fly

What Attracts Deer Flies?

Like mosquitoes, deer flies are attracted to carbon dioxide from breathing, warmth, motion and dark colors. They tend to go after the tallest moving object – which we can use in our favor.

Start by wearing light colored clothing and hanging out with taller people. (Mostly joking on the tall people part.) Protect your head, and limit exposed skin. If you're on a patio, set up a fan to help blow them away.

Using Height to Get Rid of Deer Flies

My youngest complained about deer flies every time he  mowed the yard. The deer flies dive bombed his eyes and circled his head.

Years ago, my husband told me a story about when he was a Boy Scout. They were traveling through a swampy area in Canada, being plagued by deer flies.

Their guide plucked a muddy fern and set it on top of his hat. The flies started circling the fern instead of his head. The rest of the troops followed suit, and they were one their way without flies in their faces.

We're short on ferns around here, but do have peacock feathers. I took my son's hat, and taped on feathers to create his personal deer fly distraction. Sure enough, the feather kept the deer flies away from his head.

deer fly hat trick to keep deer flies away from head
Attach a tall feather or fern to your hat to keep deer flies away from your head.

If you're short on feathers, even wearing a hat will help. Our menfolk favor boonie hats.

Tom B. shared another handy option on our Facebook page for those who drive tractors:

“My uncle has a cattle ranch in Canada. The land is completely flat, and he's plagued with deer flies when he's out on his tractor.

His trick is tying a red rag to a tall plastic pipe strapped to his tractor. It always works. They go after the tallest thing around.”

Deer Fly Repellents

Results are mixed on whether DEET based insect repellents actually repel deer flies. Another option is essential oil based repellents.

Some essential oils commonly used as insect repellents include:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Catnip
  • Lavender
  • Pepperment
  • Lemongrass
  • Citronella
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Tea tree

To use, fill an 8 ounce glass spray bottle ¾ with alcohol or witch hazel. Add 10 drops essential oil, and enough distilled water to fill. Shake before use. Avoid using eucalyptus, peppermint, or lemongrass with children under 10.

You can also buy ready made repellent sprays.

Deer Fly Control

Controlling deer flies completely can be challenging, especially if want to avoid toxic chemicals.

The larvae start their life cycle in the mud of wet areas, such as ponds, streams, or wetlands. Eliminating standing water around the yard reduces breeding areas. Mowing tall grass and weedy areas also reduces habitat.

We have a LOT of bug eating wildlife in our yard, so they are part of our control strategy.

Natural predators of deer flies include:

  • frogs
  • toads
  • spiders
  • wasps and hornets
  • dragonflies
  • birds, such as killdeer and cowbirds

We have ponds and semi-wild areas, so it works better for us to encourage deer fly predators. Since I originally wrote this article in 2012, the natural predators have eliminated our deer fly problems. My youngest was able to stop wearing his feathered cap (mentioned below).

Deer Fly Traps

There are several different types of deerfly traps. Deerfly patches stick onto your hat to trap the little buggers. The patches might also work on a pant leg or wrist if the flies are really bad.

Use larger sticky traps for biting flies near your barn, stable or campsite.

12 / Pk Deerfly Patches/TredNot Deer Fly Patch Odorless Repellent
RESCUE! Deck & Patio Fly TrapStik - Odorless, Weather Resistant
Bug Ball Starter Kit- Yellow Fly, Horse Fly, Deer Fly, and Greenhead Fly Trap
12 / Pk Deerfly Patches/TredNot Deer Fly Patch Odorless Repellent
RESCUE! Deck & Patio Fly TrapStik - Odorless, Weather Resistant
Bug Ball Starter Kit- Yellow Fly, Horse Fly, Deer Fly, and Greenhead Fly Trap
12 / Pk Deerfly Patches/TredNot Deer Fly Patch Odorless Repellent
12 / Pk Deerfly Patches/TredNot Deer Fly Patch Odorless Repellent
RESCUE! Deck & Patio Fly TrapStik - Odorless, Weather Resistant
RESCUE! Deck & Patio Fly TrapStik - Odorless, Weather Resistant
Bug Ball Starter Kit- Yellow Fly, Horse Fly, Deer Fly, and Greenhead Fly Trap
Bug Ball Starter Kit- Yellow Fly, Horse Fly, Deer Fly, and Greenhead Fly Trap

Where do Deer Flies Live?

Deer flies lay their eggs in mud, so swamps and wet lands are some of the most likely spots to get bit.

That said, they also make themselves at home around livestock, campgrounds, and open fields. They like anywhere there's a meal nearby and somewhere to lay their eggs not too far away.

Deer fly season peaks in June/July in most of their range. They are common throughout most of the United States and Canada.

Do all Deer Flies Bite?

The females are the guilty parties. They're after your blood, and their bites really itch. The males feed on pollen and nectar from plants.

Deer flies tend to go for the head and upper body, whereas horse flies like to go for the legs. Deer flies are about 1/4″ to 1/3″ (6 -8 mm) long. Horse flies are about 2-3 times the size of deer flies.

Deer fly saliva contains an anti-coagulant, which means the bites keep bleeding for a while. Those who are allergic to anticoagulants may have a reaction to deer fly bites. The bites will swell and itch, so it's important to keep kids from scratching to prevent secondary infections.

Check out 15 Home Remedies for Bug Bites and Stings for treatment tips.

Biting Black Flies and Buffalo Gnats

In 2018, there was an extreme surge in the population of small biting black flies in many areas. (These flies are also known as buffalo gnats or turkey gnats.) My friend, Joy, of Adventure Acres, was hard hit with buffalo gnats on her small homestead.

She checked on her chicken flock at night and all was well. The next day during morning chores, they found many chickens dead. Some died from inhaling the gnats, others seemed to have died from an allergic reaction to the number of bites received.

The gnats were mobbing the chickens, biting every exposed surface, even working under the feathers to bite. Although she knew gnats were in the area, they have never had a problem like this before. Joy's grandfather said he had not seen so many gnats in the 90 years that he has lived in the area.

To save the rest of the flock, Joy mixed up a vanilla spray gnat repellent. She mixed three parts vanilla and one part water. She sprayed this on the chickens and around the coop and yard.

The results were visible – gnats left the chickens, even crawling out from under the feathers where they were hiding. You can use homemade vanilla extract if you have it. (Real vanilla extract is best because it's more potent, but imitation will do in a pinch.)

Place the vanilla/water mix in a spray bottle and apply liberally to areas that you want to protect.

biting black fly on skin
Close up of biting black fly or buffalo gnat (Source – Wikimedia Commons from USDA publication by Christian Thompson )

More Natural Pest Control Tips

common sense t-shirt

This article was written by Laurie Neverman. Laurie lives with her husband and sons on 35 acres in northeast Wisconsin. They turned an abandoned pasture into a permaculture oasis, with two ponds, food forests, annual gardens, and more. She enjoys wildcrafting, ducks, and good books.

Originally posted in 2012, last updated in 2023.

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  1. This is all great information. I am heading back into deer fly country tomorrow. I will be bringing peacock feathers, sticky tape and my hat…lavender possibly. What I want to build on is the plantain suggestion-Excellent stuff! There is wide leaf and narrow (I prefer wide) where I am going. And the year before last I got a literal hole in my leg from broken sticks while climbing through downed trees…I used plantain constantly and soaked the wound with warm/hot linseed once a day. It filled in and only a pink mark where an ugly scar would have been had I not used plantain….

  2. I’m curious what methods you use to “encourage deer fly predators.” We have plenty of frogs, dragonflies and birds here on the Rideau in Eastern Ontario, but also tons of deer flies now in early July (more than in the past five years.). How do you encourage the predators?

    1. At our place, we have plenty of semi-wild areas for nesting birds, and don’t spray so the aquatic life that eats the flies can flourish. We’ve put up an assortment of birds houses for swallows, bluebirds, and wrens.

      Fly populations will ebb and flow over the years as conditions change. If there’s a surplus of flies, eventually the predators should catch up, but it may take a while.

      I’ve noticed that this year at our place, while the deer fly population is still controlled by predators, other fly populations (those the breed in manure) have boomed. We’ve had barely any rain for over two months now, so the manure isn’t getting spread and breaking down like it should from all the free range poultry. This is the worst they’ve ever been, in spite of the wide range of birds. I know the predators will catch up and the rains will eventually come, but meanwhile, way too many flies.

  3. I am in Delaware and the deer flies are back. Do not go outside. Where do I get things can put on my clothes. I had a friend who worked for Mosqueto Contol and he built a black box that seems to work. Will have to call that Dept. to see if I can get info. They do not come into our screened in porch.

    1. Hi Barbara.

      I had my son add some more links to the article for the stick on patches and fly traps to make them easier to find. Sorry you are overrun by biting flies. We’ve had a cool start to the season, so ours aren’t out yet.

  4. wear a blue helmet coated with tanglefoot, will keep them from biting,when back of helmet is full of flys just flip it around.To clean use acetone and recoat .Can also hang blue items coated with tanglefoot along edges of wetlands or woods.

  5. Hi all. I get bitten on my ankles & elbows so the feather doesn’t help me. I’m highly allergic so I have learned over the last couple years to pull the toxin out with a gadget. The original intent is supposed to be used to remove black heads (which I don’t have) It’s like a magic wand. Carry it with you & as soon as your bitten suction the bite ASAP. most times it won’t itch but if it does then I use Benadryl topical. I I don’t use my little friend I blowup like a balloon ?. The 1 I use is MIO Spa Science sold for under $30.
    Don’t feel obligated to post this. It’s just my experience & what I use.

  6. Some good comments and info here. I live just southeast of Boston about 3 miles from the ocean. We have both deer flies and horse flies in our neighborhood (I have wetlands that are actually pretty dry about 90% of the time behind our house). Deer flies seem to be active here through early August while the horse flies hang on a while longer. Never been bit by a deer fly but was bit by a horse fly on my foot about 2 years ago. Developed cellulitis on that leg and it swelled up by like a sausage. Antibiotics took care of that. Deer flies seem to be most active in the direct sunlight in our backyard but don’t seem to venture up into the front yard or deck area. They also seem to most active between 9am and 5 pm. They also seem to be less active on cloudy or breezy days. We try to limit our backyard work to early evenings. Ticks are the main problem around here and seem to be active even in the winter. Mosquitoes are a health problem around here with EEE but overall aren’t too bad in our area. Thankfully we also don’t live too close to any salt marsh…the closest being about 3 miles from here or else we would be dealing with the 3rd member of the Moe, Larry and Curly family of flies….the dreaded Greenhead.

  7. I lived in Northern Maine for several years and as a trapper for a while. No repellent available in the U.S. was completely effective against any insect. However, across the border in New Brunswick I bought a bottle of repellent that stated on the label “Not for sale in the U.S.” This stuff looked and smelled for all the world like the brown spit that comes out of a grass hopper if you hold it between your fingers and look it in the eyes. Since I had very little of it I would keep it in my pocket in reserve for when things got really bad. When I would take it out to put it on ALL the bugs would be heading DIRECTLY away. Most other things delay bugs from biting; this was a true REPELLENT. Unfortunately I do not know what it was, because it ate the label off the bottle before I read the ingredients. From the color, smell and stickiness I suspect it to be an emulsion of cedar oil and formic acid. I’ve been tempted to experiment but formic acid will take your skin off if you get it wrong, so I’ve always chickened out.
    I would pay $100 an ounce for whatever it was. If anyone knows anything about this stuff I would love to know more.
    Beware of Skin-so-soft. That, I tried once at night in the Adirondacks. To the mosquitoes you become like toast and the Skin-so-soft is like spreading on the butter and jam. I’ve lived in Maine, hunted Quebec, and Western Ontario and the Skin-so-soft mosquito experience stood out among my worst bitings ever, where as I usually tell people that in my experience the Adirondacks are relative child’s play compared to real biting insect country. The two people who said that Skin-so-soft it works–sold the stuff.

    1. Thanks for the tip about skin-so-soft. I know some people love it, but I suspect they’ve never been into hardcore bug country. I wonder was was in the mystery repellent? I’ve never seen something that matches that description – other than grasshopper juice.

  8. The best deterrent and capture method I have used with success was given a few years ago from a fellow in Texas. Put a dark blue Solo cup With “ tree tanglefoot” on it on your hat or anything moving. You won’t get bit and the devils with stick to the cup an never bother you again. Its messy, but when you see 30 or more of these devils stuck, you’ll become a believer.
    Note that I’ve tried other brands and colors, they don’t work.

    1. I live in the Midwest and have heard more about Tree Tanglefoot than any other product. We back up to a huge farm on the west with livestock and corn being planted directly across. Our backyard is our paradise with our pool and these boogers have claimed it thus far. I am scaling our shed and think I will spread some of Tanglefood atop of that in a cup near o little flag. I will let you know how the results are!

  9. We just bought some property on a lake that has a lot of woods on it also. So I Thank you for all the tips on Deer Flies I am highly allergic.
    As for wood ticks I found online a Vinegar and water mixture in a spray bottle helped me with the ticks. Equal parts mixture then spray your clothes. They also suggested leaving soaked cotton balls in your yard. I didn’t do the cotton balls, but did spray my clothes and did not have any ticks on me.

  10. I live in about 200 acres of forest up here in Northern Wisconsin and the deer flies, horse flies, mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, everything is just horrible. I feed the deer sometimes, but just a short walk to the feeding area and back, and I have ticks on me and flies biting my face and head. Between July and August, and some of September, you don’t even want to go out at all. I am going to try your tips. Thanks!

    1. Why do you continue to feed deer? Their very presence is drawing more of the insects (ticks and flies) to you and your property, thus causing you to not even want to go outside anymore! Although we cannot control every problematic insect, it seems counterintuitive to encourage the deer activity and then wonder/complain about the insects? Think about it.

  11. Awesome article! I love skin so soft, and the Vick’s vapor rub. I’d forgotten about them, and you reminded me. Thank you!

  12. I have a cottage 300 km north of Toronto, and over the last 30 years have discovered a simple way to help keep the pests off of my and my family.
    we use bug spray, deep woods off, muskol etc, on arms, torso, neck, backs of hands etc. and then wear a t-shirt for example.
    However, each member of my family has a old long sleeved dress shirt that we put on to go outside (this is only in the summer, also only when not raining, or cold etc.) , and then spray this shirt with bug spray. The key here, is that this light shirt rarely gets washed, we use it like a very light jacket, and keep putting the bug spray on it.
    You don’t wash a jacket each time you go outside either.
    The shirt is also slightly oversized so it does not make you that much warmer.
    Clearly if you do a lot of work outside and sweat through the shirt, get it very dirty, or spend a few hours using a chain saw (and your clothes smell like 2 -cycle oil/exhaust) you may want to wash it with greater frequency.

  13. Skin so soft ,an Avon product,works the best kind for my dogs ears.Just soak a piece of cotton wool and wipe the ear inside and out,until I started using this last year my dogs ears were just a mess.Haven’t found anything as good for me yet so will be trying the feather in the hat

  14. Thank you for the lack of information . I literally found no,information that was suggested I would learn. I want to find a way to rid my property of deer flies and keep it chicken safe. Thank you for your the deception.

    1. Little bit harsh on that critique there, Jason. There is no way to completely get rid of deer flies. They fly. It’s the damndest thing. You could kill every one on your place, and more can fly in.

      As outlined in the post (which it would seem you didn’t read), you can use traps, sprays and other techniques to reduce populations and keep them from biting you, but that’s about it.

      1. I wanted to say after reading Jason’s nasty, stupid post, that you *did* help me. Blackfly season appears to be letting up now, so of course, deer flies are just now emerging, and I’ve been trying to find a way to keep them off my dogs when we walk around town. I’ve decided that I’m going to try pinning some flags or something on their harnesses. I’ve ordered some Farnam Repel-X for them also, since it works for horses, to see if that works as well. And for me, the deer fly strips for my mesh hat!

        Anyway, thank you for your blog; I wish I had found it sooner. =)

  15. When I was kid living on a farm in the ’50s we used DDT to control bugs and flies. Years later Diazinon became the Atomic Bomb to kill bugs. Both have been banned from used in many countries. We also used Creolin liquid cleaner mixed with Lard to smear on exposed skin and on our hats. It smelled terrible but it kept the flies away., Burned like heck if it got in your eyes or an open wound. Then came Deet with a high concentration which did help but the allowable per cent strength of it has been reduced in bug repellents so it doesn’t work as well as it did in the 60s-70s. Deer flies were a nuisance but could be kept at bay with the Creolin mixture. With DDT sprayed on ones hat and clothes they died after they did light. No Seeums, as they have been called, are horrid. Nothing seems to repel those little blood suckers. This year, 2018, bugs of all kinds have become worse and wide spread. Bed Bugs which were all but wiped out using DDT are now on the increase globally with no permanent solution. Since they apparently don’t carry diseases the health authorities don’t view them as a health threat or problem. They are if one is allergic to the bites and they become infected. Not to mention the itchiness that develops from the bites as much as 7-10 days later. I have lived in a 20 multi unit bldg for over eleven yrs and never had a bug problem. This year, 2018, my wife and I started getting bites. The said they could be flea or Bed Bug bites. We set sticky traps everywhere and didn’t catch a thing. Sprayed Deet everywhere and still got bites. Got a PCO with two different dogs to sniff for Bed Bugs and a visual inspection by the PCO, nothing. Recently I found a dead earwig on the floor where I had put diatomaceous earth all around the baseboards and under the furniture. Whatever is biting us leaving small bites which become infected at times is still a mystery. If it is a bug or fly it must be invisible to the naked eye and alludes all sticky traps and insecticides. Maybe it is time to bring back DDT/Diazinon on a limited basis under strict controls to get these nuisance blood suckers under control. There has not been any chemicals or pesticides developed that equal the killing power of DDT/Diazinon since they were banned. Ticks are another BIG problem this year. They are everywhere and have overpopulated many areas. It is difficult to enjoy the great outdoors when being attacked and bitten by blood sucking insects. It is difficult to relax and get a peaceful nights rest when being attached by Bed Bugs. We have and are losing the war against these blood suckers. Some which carry deadly diseases. The Bugs are winning the war 🙂

    1. Bugs that are attracted to carbon dioxide can be lured away by mixing up some yeast and warm water in a soda bottle. I add a little sugar to feed the yeast, they go in the bottle and drown. Experiment with essential oils, spiders hate peppermint oil as do mice. Ants hate citrus, you get the picture. Search Pinterest I have found a lot on there.

    2. I went to Peru on a Medical Mission and some were attacked by bed bugs the first night. I had brought Permetherin and was ok, but in the morning our hosts took all the mattresses outside and left them in the sun all day. No one had another bed bug bite the rest of the trip (about 18 of us). Pretty amazing!

  16. The deer flies on my property are terrible this year also the ticks too. One home remedy I heard of and tried is take an old hat and put vicks vapo rub on the brim, sides, and back, I also put a little dab on my ears, elbows and back of my neck. It actually does work, the flies will still buzz around your head but wont land and will leave after a few moments. I havent found a way to keep the ticks away though, they seem to hitchhike on the clothes and strike when the timings right…

      1. The same deterrents that help with deer flies may also help with yellowflies, especially the traps and sticky patches. Eliminate standing water around the yard to reduce breeding areas. The flies can travel one to two miles, so spraying the yard with pesticides is unlikely to provide significant relief. Avoid outside activities at dawn and dusk, when they are most active, and shady, moist areas. (If possible – I know work demands otherwise at times.)

  17. Hi Laurie! Love your information. I have been Researching information about deer flies and horseflies online and found your site. I love that you provide information that is different from what the other sites post and not just the same thing over and over again. I have a question… I live in North Florida and I keep getting bit on the back of my legs and my ankles. I’m not sure if I’m getting bit by horseflies or deer flies because they are so fast and we have both here. Do you have any advice on how to identify which fly by the bite?

    1. Hi Becky.

      Thankfully I haven’t been bitten by a horse fly, so I don’t have an easy way to compare them. The bite descriptions I’m finding are similar for both. Around here, we have both, but it’s been my experience that the deer flies are much more likely to attempt to snack on me. I’ll find the horse flies in barns, or stuck in windows of the coop.

    2. The deer flies hurt, but the horse flies hurt worse. Their bite is nearly as bad as a yellowjacket sting in my opinion. In my experience the horse flies are slower to make their getaway than deer flies, and so are easier to swat. If you are willing to wait a second after you see them, you give them a chance to start dinner, and then whop them. This is true for either type.

    1. Anything that rides above the head will attract the deer flies to that instead of you when you are upright. It’ll be of limited help when you’re sitting down or laying down.

  18. This fantastic advice. I will try it tomorrow. I hike daily in a wetland and nothing so far has worked well. Deet, oil of lemon eucalyptus, icaridin. Permithrin is hard to get without additives in Canada, I have to wait until I can go to the US to get Sawyers version.

  19. Interesting..I wonder if that’s not the original reason the Native Americans (and others) wore feathers & headdresses on their heads…and why many hats often have a feather in the hatband !?

  20. I wonder if you could try something similar for horses? Ever since the weather warmed up this year, when the kids and I go riding, the deer flies and horse flies swarm us! Even when we use spray on the poor horses, they get bit over and over.

  21. Do you think taping a feather to my feet would work? Every year I get bit on my ankles. Im allergic to them and my feet swell to look like a cabbage patch doll. Then a blister forms, pops, and oozes for a week (sorry for gross description) and it’s very painful. I have catnip in my bugs spray, maybe I need more? Btw, I did a Google search for this issue and your article was the first listed! Congratulations Laurie, you’ve done good for yourself. Keep on truckin’

    1. I’d vote for a stronger topical bug deterrent, especially given that you’re allergic, possibly something with an essential oil blend like Terrashield, or citronella and mint. If you get bit, do your best to get a poultice on it immediately to pull out the toxins and reduce inflammation. My favorite go to for bites and stings is common plantain. It’s worked wonders for me. You might also want to check out the post on Home Remedies for Bug Bites and Stings.

      Thanks for the words of support. 🙂

    2. I wish they only swarmed my head…?
      There isn’t a inch on my body safe…just came in from trying to weed my flowerbeds, 12 minutes in and l had been bitten 7 times !!!
      They bite me through my clothes…!
      I have sticky black fly tape to put on my hat, but what good does that do when they are biting me everywhere !
      There has to be a way to eradicate these pests…wonder if CRISPR would be interested in tackling this problem !

      1. Have you tried a repellent, like the vanilla repellent or another herbal repellent? Maybe looser clothing when they are bad, so they have a tougher time reaching the skin?

        The flies are a nuisance, for sure, but many other animals depend on them for food, so we have to keep trying until we find options that keep them from eating us alive.

  22. I dont even use a feather the bucket hat works well on it’s own to keep the flys out of the face. The bucket hat also keep long hair from being grabbed by trees. Putting your hand above your head works too, but can only hold it up so long.

  23. This is great info, as always! We will put this to use. Thanks!
    Wanted to also let you know the lotion bar link isn’t working. Or maybe just not for me.

  24. Neat idea!!! I get bit by those nasty buggers when I walk along the canal – they HURT! I gotta find me a feather or a fern!

    (oh, and I tried to stifle but just can’t help pointing out – ‘Wallah’ should be ‘Voila’, actually pronounced vwah-lah. It’s one of those French words that don’t sound like they look they should! okay, I’ll shut up now…) 😉

      1. Haha!! Good, I’m glad you don’t mind a ‘know-it-all’ like me!! Bring on the Spanish… ;D

        1. Can we just talk about the bugs? If your going to banter all cute like then get a bed together. Stop wasting time on this thread. Jack-asses

          1. Jeremy – we do have a room together – it’s called “I own the website”.

            Having a pleasant conversation is not wasting time. It’s common courtesy – which you would know if anyone had taught you manners.

            Also, speaking of spelling errors (which is what prompted the first comment), the word you were looking for is “you’re”, not “your”. Maybe Karla can help you out, too, if you ask nicely.

            The post itself contains the relevant information about deer fly control. I update it as comments come in and people share tips that I missed. No need to be rude about reading comments that are completely optional.

          2. Wow, I am super glad that Laurie responded to you because I don’t think I would have been as nice….