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.
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.
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:
- 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:
- wasps and hornets
- 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.
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.
More Natural Pest Control Tips
- Natural Tick Repellents and Easy Tick Control Tips
- How to Get Rid of Ants Naturally
- Natural Spider Repellents – 8 Ways to Get Rid of Spiders
- Natural Mosquito Repellents That Work
- Get Rid of Mice in Your Home and Garage
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.