What is the Real Killer of Deer in Virginia’s Forests?

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As the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) struggles to manage a deer hunting season amid a declining population, biologists are trying to determine the leading causes for the drop in deer numbers. Scientists have employed radio-collared tracking devices that are greatly helping scientists determine a fawn’s fate.

The available number of deer for hunting has been decreasing steadily over the past decade. DGIF recorded a harvest of 1,200 deer during the 2003 hunting season. In preceding years, disease outbreaks usually lowered the number of harvested deer, but averages were still over 1,000. In 2004, the harvest dropped to about 800 and since 2005, the average harvest has been between approximately between 600 and 650 deer.

The decline involves many factors. Many believe predators, especially coyotes, are significantly harming the population. Virginia biologists set out to explore the possibility by targeting fawns and their survival rate. As of last year, 54 fawns had been radio-collared with a collar designed to fall off as the fawn grows older.

Of those 54 fawns, seven collars fell off prematurely, nine died after being abandoned, five died of unknown causes, three were definitely eaten, and the rest, 64 percent, survived the summer.

This year, two of another 14 collared fawns have already been determined to be victims of predators by late March of this year. Still, this has researchers questioning the specific impact of coyotes on deer population.

For an InsideNova.com report, a journalist accompanied two biologists involved in placing radio collars on fawns. The biologists believe an aging forest and other predators could largely be deer killers.

Read the full report on that theory here on InsideNova.

Image from mestdagh, s_mestdagh on flickr