Helping fawns survive coyotes

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Study after study has demonstrated that bears, coyotes, and even bobcats prey heavily on fawns. Coyotes seem to be getting the most attention by hunters and for good reason. Coyote populations are burgeoning in most areas. Where they were once critters of the cactus and tumbleweed they now are showing up in cornfields and acorn flats. They’ve moved into neighborhoods and would just as soon make a meal of your pet tabby as chase a jackrabbit through a patch of cactus.

Biologists are quick to point out to the proliferation of whitetails as a leading cause in the coyote explosion. As whitetail herds have spread across the country so do the predators who dine on them. In many locations coyotes are the dominant (both in numbers and food chain position) apex predator. Coyotes have recently populated the southeast and in many areas are making a serious dent in the whitetail population.

Impact of Coyote Predation

Coyotes are tearing up deer herds across the country and it’s starting to make a difference. Researchers in Pennsylvania, Alabama, Georiga and South Carolina have recently looked at the impact of coyotes on white-tailed deer and the results are pretty grim. Coyotes are gobbling up fawns at an alarming rate!

Alabama researchers studied fawn recruitment (number of fawns per adult doe 1.5 year and older in the herd just prior to hunting season) before and after removing predators (22 coyotes and 10 bobcats). The results were astonishing. Areas where predators were removed showed 193 to 256 percent greater fawn recruitment than areas where predators were not removed.

Another study in Georgia estimated that it took 78 does to recruit two fawns in an area with a high predator population. After the predators were removed, two fawns were produced for every three does. A South Carolina study captured and monitored 60 newborn fawns. Coyotes killed 47 to 62 percent of them by fall with 66 percent of the kills occurring within the first three weeks of life. It’s clear, in areas of high predator population that predators are taking their share of fawns and then some.

Dr. Karl Miller reported at the 2011 Quality Deer Management Associations Annual Convention that across the whitetail’s range, fawn recruitment rates are changing. Where recruitment rates once averaged around 1 fawn for every doe, in coyote dense areas, the recruitment rate is now closer to .4 fawns per doe.

Shoot Animal Predators on Sight?

Deer predation is what has everybody on perpetual coyote patrol. Hunters hate to share their prey with others, especially when the “other” is an indiscriminate opportunistic killer of the deer they hunt (man being the ultimate apex predator). Hunters have started talking about fawn predation and declining recruitment rates and are quick to blame coyotes. Coyotes are typically shot on sight in an attempt to “protect” deer herds. But are they making a difference? Probably not.

Research shows that coyotes are quick to repopulate an area after a void has been created. Killing a few coyotes in July or August (or even deer season) will almost surely result in others (maybe more) coming in to take their place. By fawning season there will be plenty of “yotes” to go around and the net of it all will be little more than a few dead coyotes for someone to brag on. Nature abhors a vacuum and when it comes to coyotes, the vacuum is quickly filled with more coyotes.

Research also shows that fawns are most vulnerable to predation in the first few weeks of their lives. Experts recommend that coyote control measures be implemented no sooner than 45 days before the fawning season. All this summer, fall and early winter hunting is doing little good when it comes to protecting fawns. It may be fun, and you may even occasionally kill a few but it will do little to protect fawns from coyotes. If you are going to hunt coyotes in the name of fawn predation, give spring a fling (provided it is legal) or better yet, learn to trap (provided that is legal).

Trapping Coyotes Out

Experts also state that trapping is vastly superior to hunting for eradicating coyotes. The best time to wipe out a population of coyotes in a given area is just prior to the fawning season. Professional trappers can generally rid (or seriously reduce) an area of coyotes in the period of a few weeks. Note, the term professional. Coyote trapping is super tough and it takes a darn good trapper to catch one, never mind wipe out an established population. It also takes a legal trapping season and some states prohibit year around coyote trapping.

More and more coyote trapping seminars and courses are being held across whitetail country in response to the outcry from hunters to “do something about these damned coyotes”. Some guys are actually getting pretty good at keeping coyote numbers in check on their deer properties through trapping. But, they are the guys putting in the time and energy to learn the ins and outs of one of the most “trap shy” animals in the country. One thing for sure, you may knock them down but you won’t knock them out—at least for good.

Create Better Fawning Habitat

Another approach to protecting whitetails is to create better habitat through native vegetation to propagation; especially fawning habitat. Does park their fawns in thick protective cover for a reason and that reason is it is harder for predators to find fawns when there hidden in dense weed fields or impenetrable brush thickets.

Savvy hunters and land managers have taken to creating “fawning areas” on the land they hunt. Clear cutting wooded areas generally results in great fawning cover as does spot “hinge cutting where small diameter (4-8 inches) trees are cut to the point where they will topple over but not to the point where they will be cut completely through. This creates a living brush pile on the ground that creates both food and cover for whitetails year round. Simply driving over brush and saplings (crushing) with a log skidder or bulldozer will create a horrible mess that whitetails simply love and predators hate. We’ve been doing it on our property for years now and it created great cover and definitely helps set back fawn predation. Protection fawns from predators can be as simple as encouraging the growth of dense weed lots. Weeds have gotten a bad rap; actually they are very good for wildlife; it’s time to quit mowing and start growing (weeds that is). Habitat creation is the key to wildlife propagation and great hunting. It may not be the total solution to the coyote problem, but it certainly is an important part of it.

At his point, there doesn’t seem to be any silver bullet for coyote control (pun intended). But, one thing is for certain, we need to be keeping a close eye on herd numbers and harvest accordingly. Most hunters are happy to take does to fill freezers and keep population numbers in line with what the habitat can support. If the predators are doing the job for them (through fawn predation), then it’s time to back off the doe harvest some. Some believe Mother Nature will eventually solve the problem she helped create. Guess we will just have to wait and see.

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