Is this a “Booner”…if he becomes “Coyote Candy” you’ll Never Know
By Austin Delano
You would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t agree with this point – “Coyotes are plentiful and their numbers are up almost everywhere.” Their population boom east of the Mississippi during the past 40 years is incredibly impressive. Because everyone physically sees more coyotes a lot of the negative issues facing small game are thought to be their fault – and some of the blame they are due. But fewer people understand the impact they can have on North America’s favorite big game, especially concerning whitetail fawn recruitment. Like it or not, the “song-dogs” are here to stay so learn how to deal with them.
Killing all the coyotes you possibly could will without doubt help fawn recruitment, but try as you might, there will still be coyotes around. The argument has been made that you need a few to keep the other small predators in check, and there is some good research that supports this claim. However, no one likes the idea of coyotes managing their deer herd for them. While coyotes may not be the chief regulator on the overall deer population of a given county or state, they can definitely affect smaller pockets - and that might be your property. Luckily there are a few things we can do to increase fawn survival rates.
One of the most effective ways to remove coyotes from a property is through an intense trapping program. Sure, hunting them is a very fun pastime, but trapping yields more significant results. One thing many people don’t realize is that the fawning season coincides with when most coyote pups are born. So not only are new-born fawns a favorite meal for coyotes, but coyotes are also eating more during this time in order to feed extra hungry mouths. Although trapping seasons vary on a state to state basis, the most effective time to remove coyotes is immediately before the peak in fawning activity for that region. Removing 70% of the coyotes during the peak of fawning season can dramatically increase fawn recruitment rates. Recent studies have shown recruitment rates increasing 150-215% on land where the majority of coyotes were removed at or before peak fawning time.
If there was ever a case for managing towards an even buck to doe ratio this may be as important as any of them. Land that is managed for 1:1 ratio, of one buck to one doe, has a fawn drop that will happen all within about a two week period. This means all the fawns are born at almost the same time making it much more difficult for predators to negatively affect the recruitment rate for that property. When buck to doe ratios are skewed more on the side of too many does and are more in the 5:1 to 7:1 range for example, the fawn drop is much more spread out and predators, like coyotes, have a much better chance of negatively impacting your overall fawn survival numbers.
Coyotes and other predators can also suppress an already low number of deer when trying to rebound from other population adversity like natural die off or an abused doe harvest. A section of a southern state that I grew up hunting was hit pretty hard about 5 years ago by EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease). The overall population in this area looked to be down 50-70%! This massive hit to the population, along with a very liberal doe harvest, had numbers as low as the area had seen since the 1960s. The area still seems to be struggling to rebound and in spite of everything they are nowhere near previous numbers. I believe low quality fawning habitat, liberal doe harvest regulations and an increased number of coyotes is keeping the deer in this area suppressed well below carrying capacity.
Another way to increase fawn recruitment rates is by providing adequate cover and fawn rearing habitat. Fawns ideally need tall, thick, grassy cover to hide in until they reach the age where they can start following their mother. In a recent southeastern study, 65% of fawns that are taken by predators are killed in their first three weeks of life. Even areas with moderate to high predator populations can have good fawn survival ratios when proper fawning cover is present.
On the flip side, land that has very poor cover and fawning habitat can be heavily affected by even a moderate to low coyote population. Creating good fawn cover can be as simple as taking a chainsaw and doing a hinge-cut on a couple sections of timber. The result of getting daylight to the ground in an area previously over shadowed by the thick canopy of leaves will be a wealth of new native plants and grasses that will not only serve as great bedding cover but also provide some food value to whitetails.
Native warm season grasses are another great way to create a positive environment for fawns and mothers (Read Todd Amenrud’s article in this issue, A House Made of Grass). Unused pastures or low quality timber can be removed with heavy equipment to create 2-5 acre blocks to be planted in grasses such as Switchgrass, Indian grass, Big Bluestem, etc. Once established, the grasses are very tall and thick and the elements have a hard time penetrating the lower levels where fawns lay. This makes it very difficult for coyotes to be able to systematically hunt down a fawn by scent.
The bottom line boils down to this; we will always be dealing with coyotes, they are natural predators and part of God’s plan. Hunting and trapping can certainly have a positive outcome for a short period of time, but you are never going to completely rid yourself of coyotes. If you manage a piece of property and identify predators as being the primary cause for low fawn recruitment, look at implementing a year round trapping program and create some new fawn-friendly areas that give them a better chance at survival. And remember that striving for a balance to the buck to doe ratio will also have a positive influence on fawn survival. Even if you don’t trap, creating these thickets equals security and using sound “trigger finger management” will have a significant positive influence on your herd. In the circle of life predators have their place and I’m certainly glad because they are so enjoyable to hunt. However, we’re at the top of the food chain, and I certainly don’t want these merciless little dogs doing my whitetail management for me.
Inset photo credit: Twildlife | Dreamstime.com