Too Many Predators?

Internship CoyoteAs hunters we have a bitter disdain towards predators. If we don’t see many fawns…the coyotes killed them all. Or how about lack of buck sightings? An uneventful rut? Overall deer sightings are down? It’s easy to blame coyotes and other predators if there is a decline in our deer sightings but it may not always be what it seems. While it is true that coyotes can have detrimental impacts on deer herds, especially fawn recruitment, that may not be the only problem you are experiencing on your property. Here are a couple problems I have encountered before.

I visited a piece of land where there were very few deer. Hardly any deer were spotted regularly except for during the late season around December. I knew that while coyotes may have had an impact they wouldn’t have killed ALL the deer. In this case the agricultural land on the property had been planted with cotton for two of the past three years. The wooded acreage was primarily pines and had a relatively open understory. The lack of forage-producing crops and timber on the property was the suspected problem. The forest’s open understory was barren and consisted of no food whatsoever. Additionally, the trail camera surveys showed little predator activity. The only time deer were consistently observed on this property was during the late season when the deer were seeking shelter and non-pressured areas. A properly implemented habitat management plan has now put this landowner’s property on the right track and he is seeing more deer than ever.

Another instance was a parcel of land that seemed to be a deer haven. Huge stands of oaks bordering a river and a few hundred acres of agricultural crops, including corn and soybeans. In this case he wasn’t seeing many bucks and felt his property should have better hunting, especially during the rut. Oddly enough, I believed their situation was a result of lackadaisical doe harvests. The suspected problem was that the bucks couldn’t breed all of the does due to a skewed sex ratio. The does that weren’t bred during their first estrus cycle in November then entered into their second estrus cycle a month later around December. This resulted in late breeding and fawns being born in a later than normal staggered fashion the following summer. Of course the later-born fawns became sexually mature later that year and many were suspected to have been bred around December and January. This resulted in those females giving birth to fawns later that following summer. You can see a circadian pattern here. Also, the higher density of antlerless deer resulted in a drawn out rut that was boring and uneventful because there was no rush for the bucks to find the does, there were plenty of them, there were actually too many of them. While we did capture some pictures of coyotes on his property during trail camera surveys, it wasn’t suspected that they had a huge impact on the deer herd. There is a possibility that the coyotes may have actually helped maintain the higher-than-normal antlerless deer population.

While coyotes and other predators can easily have negative effects on your deer herd, that is not always the problem. Before jumping the gun and spending an ample amount of time and money trapping and shooting every possible predator, focus your attention on your habitat such as the production of native forage and bedding areas. Also, be sure to scrutinize your antlerless deer quotas and properly maintain a healthy buck to doe ratio.

Andrew Walters