Are Coyotes Negatively Impacting Our Deer Herds?

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Let's face it, coyotes don't exactly have a great reputation amongst hunters. They've been blamed for everything from the decline of quail and rabbit populations, to lost livestock, and even the occasional missing neighborhood cat or dog. Of course, some of this reputation is deserved, and some of it is probably more lore than fact. Several recent studies, however, have shown that the boom in coyote populations over the last 30 years may be impacting more than just small game, livestock and pet numbers. More and more biologists are discovering that coyotes can have a major impact on the fawn survival of whitetail deer, as well. Just how much of an impact this is having on overall deer numbers is yet to be determined, but it is significant enough to draw the attention of many of the nation's top deer biologists.


Coyote - US Fish & Wildlife Service Photo

HISTORY OF COYOTES IN THE EAST
The coyote wasn't always a familiar face in the eastern US. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, the coyote has only recently become a permanent resident in many states east of the Mississippi River. Once a species restricted to the Great Plains region, the coyote began its expansion east with the widespread clearing of land, along with the decimation of Timber Wolf populations in the north and Red Wolf populations in the south. With the coyotes primary competition wiped out, the eastern US became a smorgasbord for the "song dogs."

It was somewhere in the late 1970s to early 1980s that the wily coyote started showing up in the western portion of my home state of Kentucky and slowly began its expansion east. To say they've done well here would be an understatement. Not only have coyotes become a common visitor to the rural areas of all the eastern states, but coyote sightings - and complaints - have expanded right into the heart of some of our largest cities.


Coyote - US Fish & Wildlife Service Photo

THE COYOTE'S DIET
As mentioned above, one of the reasons that coyotes have been able to thrive here is the abundant food supply, and the fact that they are such opportunistic feeders. In fact, it would probably be easier to list the things that coyotes DON'T eat, than it would be to list all the things that coyotes DO eat! While their primary diet consists of rodents, they are also known to eat birds, insects, fruit, livestock, as well as whitetail deer. Like many wildlife species, that diet varies seasonally, as well as from one location to another.

While coyote predation on healthy, adult deer is relatively rare, more and more studies are showing that whitetail deer fawns can make up an alarmingly high percentage of a coyote's diet during the peak fawning month. Let's take a look at a few of those studies and just what biologists are discovering about our most prolific predator.

THE STUDIES
If you were to do a Google search on coyote predation of whitetail deer, chances are you would see numerous references to Gary Lavigne - former wildlife biologist with the state of Maine, who was once in charge of the state's deer program. That's because in a 1995 report to the Maine legislature, Lavigne stated that coyote predation in Maine accounted for as much as 30 percent of the state's annual deer mortality - nearly 20,000 animals. He also reported that deer make up from 50 to 80 percent of a coyote's diet during the winter and early spring, and in some areas, that figure could be as high as 90 percent. These numbers were quite alarming to the sportsmen of Maine and eye-opening to deer managers across the country.


Deer carcass

More recently, researchers in South Carolina conducted a three-year study on the 300-square-mile Savannah River Site of the U.S. Forest Service's Southern Research Station. What they discovered, by tracking 60 radio-collared fawns from birth, was that only 27-percent of the monitored fawns survived beyond 9 weeks, with most dying within five to six weeks of birth. Of the 44 fawns killed, coyotes were likely responsible for 38 - or nearly 85 percent. Interestingly enough, the study also concluded that ALL coyotes kill fawns, not just the dominant, experienced breeders.

A third study - this one in northeastern Alabama - convinced researchers that coyotes were a limiting factor in the number of fawns "recruited" into the herd. Their laboratory analysis of coyote scat and stomach contents showed fawns made up 27.3 percent of the coyotes' July-to-September diet, which covered that region's peak fawning months. Although small mammals (rabbits and rodents) also formed 27.3 percent of the summer diet, fawn meat was believed to be more important because of its higher nutritional value.

All of this research brings to light the fact that coyotes can and will key in on whitetail deer fawns, especially during the first month of a fawn's life. The question remains, however, if this mortality is actually detrimental to the overall health of a deer herd, and if it is, what can we do, as hunters, to help? For the answers to those questions, let's take a look at a little more research.

MANAGING COYOTE NUMBERS
In southwestern Georgia, University of Georgia researchers Brett Howze and Robert Warren chose a 29,000-acre area with a low fawn-to-doe ratio to study fawn survival in two test areas 2.5 miles apart. In the larger of the two areas (11,000-acres), the researchers removed 23 coyotes and three bobcats from January to August, but removed no predators from a second 7,000-acre block.

Shortly before hunting season, they conducted a remote camera census that estimated 0.72 fawns per doe where predators were killed and 0.07 fawns per doe where no predators were killed. In other words, there were 10 times as many fawns per doe in the area where predators were controlled than there were in the area where predators were not.


Coyote in a trap

In the northeastern Alabama study discussed earlier in the article, researchers documented a staggering jump in fawn abundance after trappers removed 22 coyotes and 10 bobcats between February and July 2007. Data from hunter observations showed a fawn/doe ratio of 0.52 before the trapping program, and 1.1 after the removals. Similarly, a remote camera census showed 0.52 fawns per doe before removal and 1.33 afterward. Combined, that's a 190 percent increase in fawn-to-doe ratios.

DOES CONTROL REALLY WORK?
The obvious conclusion from the studies outlined here is that predator control can have a significant positive impact on fawn survival in a targeted area. The problem with this, however, is that female coyotes can compensate for such losses by having larger litters and coyotes from outside the "control" area will quickly recolonize the area. This means that for a control program to be successful long-term, it will have to be maintained annually, for as long as you wish to protect the deer population in the area.

Having said all this, the question still remains whether or not coyotes are a threat to our deer herd. Based on the research and the growth of the eastern US deer herd over the last 30 years, I would say the answer is "no." Coyote populations seem to be somewhat self-regulating, and our thriving deer population seems to handle the loss to predation well. Research shows that adult mortality in coyotes runs between 30 and 40 percent for adults and as high as 70 percent for juveniles, but can vary greatly from year to year. Coyotes are susceptible to a multitude of canine diseases, including distemper, parvo, mange, hepatitis and rabies, and outbreaks of disease can severely impact local populations. Just as with losses from human control, though, coyotes can usually rebound quickly from disease outbreaks by breeding younger and having larger litters.

Just because coyote numbers are self regulating, however, doesn't mean that coyotes can't have a negative impact in areas where deer densities are already low due to other factors - such as EHD outbreaks, illegal harvest, etc. It is in areas like these, that we must closely monitor coyote populations and their impacts on deer herds, and - when necessary - increase hunting and trapping pressure in order to protect the young fawns beyond that critical first month of life. Because if one thing is certain in all of these discussions on coyotes and deer, it is this: a hungry coyote will never pass on the opportunity to make a nice, warm meal out of a young whitetail deer.


Brian Grossman is a wildlife biologist, freelance writer and avid outdoorsman from Mt. Washington, Kentucky. You can visit his web site at www.PoorBoysOutdoors.com.

Comments

Coyotes; not your friend

I have to disagree with the notion that coyotes don't affect deer herds.  They do feast on fawns and at least out west, they are capable of taking down adult deer.  I wouldn't have argued that until  coyotes killed a full sized buck in front of my place this spring.  They are hell on fawns, turkeys, and other small game, not to mention 14 of my barn cats and a couple neighbor dogs (Labs) and my own full grown Australian Shep (though they did not do me the favor of killing him).  On the other hand, controlling coyotes is an endless pursuit and will never result in cleaning out an area totally.  When you kill off a few in an area, a few more will move in, ad infinitum.  I have to kill a few every month to keep them from becoming a problem on my small place.  It's a chore I don't mind doing and I swear that doe I saw in my front yard this morning winked at me.

 

i think this is amzing!!! i

i think this is amzing!!! i cant believe all of this stuff that goes on....

            i have my own farm an we hunt i just went hunted this moring and my friend sat up in a tree stand for the first time an saw a coyote an thought that he did not shot because he wanted to wait for a buck an did he see his dream buck that day that everyopne is talking about they have seen on my farm..... NO....

             an my couisn was sitting on a home made deer stand, an saw 10 quails an 2 coyotes chaseing them in 2 the tree right by him. An he said to him self that he was only going to shoot at one of them coyotes if they would of got a quail. an they never got a quail that day because they smelled him but couldnt see him. An he told his wife that night an she said to him " i thought we promised each other if we saw a coyote we would shoot it right there!"....

               my brother was hunting on a hale bale with his daughter an saw a coyote chaseing a fawn so he shoot at the coyote an he hit it.... he saved the fawn for five more mins. because another coyote was hideing in a bush an waiting for the fawn an started to chase that fawn.

 I have more storys if you want me to tell you just ask.

How can you say this?!?!?

Having said all this, the question still remains whether or not coyotes are a threat to our deer herd. Based on the research and the growth of the eastern US deer herd over the last 30 years, I would say the answer is "no."

Wait a minute.  You just describe three different studies at length that show disastrous effects on fawn survival, only to dismiss it without any proof other than stating there is other research?  Your conclusion is a sham.

It’s obvious to me that the eastern Coyote needs to be eradicated if I hope to keep putting venison on my families table at the same rate I’ve been for the last 30 years.

And the bit about only going after fawns is bunk.  I have personally witnessed coyote chasing groups of full grown whitetails in early winter here in PA.  Not many fawns around at that time of year. 

 

"where deer densities are

"where deer densities are already low due to other factors"

Like the mule deer population in NM. 

Coyote In Abundance in North Alabama

When I first moved to North Alabama in 1980, we seldom heard much about coyotes.  In the same way, growing up in Meridian, Mississippi, we never heard of coyotes in or around our hunting areas. Over the last 10 years in North Alabama, we hear more about coyotes than deer, wild boar, turkey or other wild game/predators. I can sit on my porch in the evenings and hear the loud coyote "singing" in nearby pasture land and wooded areas.
This past week, I had two instances with coyote while deer hunting that gave me a chill to the bone.
In the first instance, four coyote popped up downhill at a fence line near thick brush about 130 yds in front of me as I sat in the blind. I watched as they slowly moved toward me and then disapeared again in the brush, now around 60-70 yds in front of me. I watched and got a bit nervous as they continued up the hill toward me and they again disapeared in the thick brush but this time I counted 5 of them. I picked up my rifle, made sure I had a round in the chamber and sat with my eyes and ears at full attention.
Suddenly I heard a noise in the head high grass and briars behind me, less than 20 yards and before I could turn around in my blind, the coyote began a blood curlding howel and scream sequence that made me realize that the hunter was now the hunted. All I could do was sit, paralyzed and trapped, and wait, hoping that I could reload my 4 shot rifle quick enough to hit at least one or two dogs. 
After waiting over 30 minutes and hearing no sounds, I decided to try to get out of the blind and head down the hill toward my truck. As I made my way through the grass and downhill, I could hear the beasts making their way through the nearby woods. When I made it to my truck, I waited a good 20 minutes for my nerves to settle before I headed out, thankful that the pack of coyotes made something else their dinner menu.
3 days later, after sitting in the blind till about 11 AM, I decided to head home after not seeing anything all day. Three steps out of the blind and I heard a commotion in the woods down the hill from me. 3 deer - a solid 6 point and 2 doe - let out a couple screaches and wheezes and made a dash for a hill on the opposite side of me. I dropped to the ground, possitive that I hadn't spooked them, and waited for nearly 20 minutes before getting up.
I walked down the hill through the woods to see what they were so interested in and noticed loads of scrapes and rubs. I put out a few attractants to keep them coming and made my way back up to my blind. As I topped the hill, I saw something moving in the edge of field that joined the woods. At first, I thought it to be a very small deer but that thought was quickly wiped away with the knowing that it was a large dog. The property owner where I hunt has a German shepherd and I thought it may have been him that decided to go for a walk. As the dog came into clearer view, around 30 yards, I realized it was a coyote and it was coming at me in full trot. 
As I dropped to one knee behind a couple small pine scrubs, the coyote was no less than 5 yards from me before I realized it and had me in full view, teeth showing and snarling and showing no fear of me. I raised my rifle, quickly got the dog in the crosshairs and squeezed off a shot. The coyote didn't make a sound but I saw blood blow out the other side. It made two steps and dropped down. As I walked down a bit of a hill to retrieve the kill, I saw that it was nearly cut in two. Upon inspection, I saw that this was a female, around knee high and a good estimation of about 60 pounds. I loaded her up into my truck and took her off to get her out of my hunting land.
Coyotes here in North Alabama are becoming a greater and greater nuisance for the farmers as well as the hunters. At one point there was a $50 bounty with an open season for them (not sure if there still is, but it is still open season). Not only are they a problem with cattle, the deer population or other wild life, they are becoming more and more aggressive and fearless toward humans. The population has exploded and something NEEDS to be done to get them under control. We are even seeing them coming to our back yards, at times killing domestic pets. I fear that with their rising numbers, we will soon start seeing attacks on humans and rising attacks on our livestock and pets.
For those who are in the woods and fields looking for that big buck, you may want to make sure that you are not in somethings sights before you try to get something in your sights. Use good hunter awareness and common sense and be careful!

IndianaBuck's picture

Coyotes

This hunting season showed me just how much the coyote can effect deer hunting.  This year, I shot a deer at exactly 8:30 am.  It ran over the side of the hill out of sight.  I let it lie for 25 minutes and got up from my blind.  After following the blood trail I walked up on my deer to find it had already been ripped open in the butt and the bullet wound.  They ate from the shoulder all the way up into the loins.  I looked at my phone for the time.  It was 9:02 am.  I couldn't believe they did what they did in 32 minutes.  I have never heard a coyote getting on a deer that fast.  I will definitely be taking out some coyote before next season.  I guess I better check the rules on that.

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