Most prey species have cyclic, annual reproduction rates and as the habitat that sustains them decreases, so does the population of the prey. Predators follow suit and also decrease as prey diminishes. Litter sizes shrink and inefficient hunters succumb to the best hunters in a pack. This has been proven in research studies involving predators such as coyotes and Canada lynx in the context of snowshoe hare cyclic trends.
Your first goal is to determine if you are dealing with a high coyote density or an average population. Most states have animal damage control offices that deal with predator and nuisance animal control. The United States Department of Agriculture might have an animal damage control officer in your area. These specialists work daily with predators and can tell you if you live in a “problem” area or if trying to control coyotes would be a waste of time.
You can do your own research. First, do you routinely find evidence of deer mortality on your property? Do you find fawn parts, adult deer parts and deer hair in coyote scat? Can you trace those kills back to coyotes or are they scavenging road kills from a nearby highway or taking advantage of deer wounded and lost during the deer season? Listen at dawn and dusk and count the number of howls you hear. You can also trigger howls with a siren or recorded howls. This will give you an idea of how many coyotes are in the area.
Finally, look for tracks and scat, and count your sightings. If you hunt the property regularly keep notes of when, where and how many tracks, scat and sightings you come across. Ask your hunting partners and lessees to do the same to broaden your perspective of the local coyote density.
If you have a large property consisting of several hundred acres that include food plots and dense cover, you might be actually ringing the dinner bell for coyotes. Quality habitat increases the all-around prey base and that might attract coyotes. That can be both good and bad.
The Quality Deer Management Association attempts to keep its members abreast of the latest in information to aid deer management practices. This organization has updated its members on new research conducted by students and faculty of Mississippi State University regarding predator and deer relationship. The study, which lasted nearly 10 years, indicated that deer managers who conserve and enhance habitat aid deer by creating better fawn hiding locations and overall escape habitat. Plus, the habitat increases other prey species that will attract the attention of predators looking for an easy meal so they won’t be as apt to focus on deer.
Where you manage deer also should influence your decision to control coyotes. Deer in southern latitudes have less overall stress throughout the year due to increased browse and less winter stress. Deer in northern latitudes often have a feast or famine lifestyle with abundant browse from spring through fall, but suffer through severe conditions due to snow and cold in the winter months. After being rundown from the rigors of the rut, northern deer easily succumb to predation when deep snow and cold enter the equation.
I’ve seen a pack of coyotes run down a tired buck and strip it of every ounce of edible meat. Although that isn’t the norm, coyotes tend to have an advantage on northern deer when conditions merit. Another negative factor facing northern deer is their practice of yarding and herding up in large groups, again attracting coyotes. It’s not unusual to see coyotes approaching winter herds of deer and running them to see if any weak animals are in the group. I’ve witnessed it dozens of times and have watched coyotes do the same with my saddle horses. If you try and manage deer in a northern region that has a high coyote density, keep your eye on the conditions to see if coyotes are targeting stressed herds.
Several studies have been undertaken on the predator-and-prey relationship, specifically the coyote’s impact on prey. Each study differs because of location, duration and resources available to conduct the study, but you can glean a few important facts from each. To begin with, several studies strongly support the notion that coyotes prey on fawns in the spring.
One study conducted on the coastal plains of South Texas clearly showed fawn survival could be substantially increased by decreasing coyote densities. Two study areas, each consisting of 5,000 acres, were designated. They were five miles apart. One was designated a predator removal site and the other as the control site with no predator control at all. Predator densities were similar prior to the two-year removal period. During the first year the whitetail deer counts indicated a fawn-to-doe ratio on the predator removal property to be at 0.47 and 0.12 on the control property without predator removal. During the second year the fawn to doe ratio jumped to 0.82 on the predator removal property and 0.32 on the control site. Interestingly, similar jumps in productivity were seen in bobwhite quail and Rio Grande turkeys at the removal site.
Another study took place over eight years in the Welder Wildlife Refuge in South Texas. Researches coyote-proofed 1,000 acres of pasture with raised and buried fence. The top of the fence was charged with electricity to ensure that coyotes were kept out. All coyotes were removed, but deer were able to cross the perimeter fence and cattle were introduced to replicate typical agricultural conditions. Researchers discovered that fawn survivability was 30 percent higher in the enclosure as compared to the unregulated refuge. Over the next five years, the whitetail density increased, but declined after that period due to decreased food supplies and increased parasites. What do these studies prove?
First, the studies took place in areas where deer habitat was not altered. Therefore, as fawn survivability increased along with the overall deer herd, the food base did not. The carrying capacity of the land could not keep up with the animals found within the research sites. That’s not the case on most managed properties today. Quality management programs supplement nutrition in addition to maximizing food plots. Savvy managers have at least 5 percent, if not more, of land cultivated in food-plot programs. Most of the better properties I’ve been on actually have an abundance of food to meet the demands of area deer as well as those migrating to the property during severe winter weather.
Next, in several of the studies the predator removal program was only implemented for a short window of time, two years or less. After removal had concluded, coyote numbers began to rise because of predator dispersion and fawn survivability again decreased. One of the studies showed that any coyote removal program of less than six months in time had little effect. Solid results were only seen after nine months or more, and had to be continued to keep fawn survivability high. Short-term bursts of coyote control were only recommended for problem coyotes, particularly those preying on livestock or that had learned to prey on adult deer effectively.
Finally, you won’t find a “one-size-fits-all” answer to predator management for optimum deer production. The MSU study clearly illustrated that properties managed with the greatest potential for habitat can achieve quality deer production with little or no predator management. If you have a chink in your plan and are short on habitat, coyotes can pressure your deer, particularly your annual fawn crop. They could be eating the next trophy on your property before it has a chance to grow.
Most deer managers take a “no-tolerance” approach to coyotes. Greg Simons manages more than 300,000 acres for deer in Texas with his outfitting business Wildlife Systems and has managed properties for hunting for 20 years. As a biologist with a wildlife and fisheries science degree from Texas A&M University, Simons believes firmly in controlling predators on his property and has the data to prove it.
Simons is managing nearly 200,000 acres in west Texas for mule deer and has implemented an intensive predator control program to increase fawn production. After six years the results are obvious and only affected by Mother Nature.
“We track the fawn crop on our property and before we started managing the predators our fawn crop was less than twenty-five percent. After one year of predator control, fawn production jumped to eighty percent and has been averaging seventy percent or higher since,” explains Simons. “Last year we only had two inches of rain from January through August so we were in a severe drought, but we still managed to keep fawn production at fifty percent. I can only guess what it would have been without predator control, but I’m sure the percentage would have been much lower.”
Currently, Wildlife Systems has multiple leased properties under intensive predator control, but Simons stresses that you can’t hope for miracles on a small property, especially if it is only surrounded by barbed wire. Regardless of your efforts you will continue to have coyotes unless your neighbors also implement a predator-management program.
If you own a high-fenced property with net or woven wire fence, you might have better luck managing coyotes. From his experience Simons knows that coyotes prefer to slide under a net fence instead of going through it, leaving easy-to-find clues of their entrance. These slide areas are perfect locations for snares to catch the invaders.
Simons stresses that once you commit to a predator management program you need to continue it through the duration of your deer management program regardless of the size of a property. If you stop controlling the predators the vacuum you create will quickly be filled by other coyotes. In a year or two you’ll be back to where you started, advises Simons.
If you want to increase fawn production on your property, consider increasing the habitat base and following a stringent predator management control program. Even though people might never agree on coyote control as a whole, I think we can all agree that any fragile fawn or weak adult deer will become a snack if a coyote finds it. It’s your choice whether you want to decrease that opportunity by decreasing the coyote population.