- October 5, 2016
- Fur and Fangs STAFF
Coyotes more than virtually any other species in North America, even wild hogs, have expanded their range to the point where they are now found in every state. They have even moved comfortably into suburban areas where they occasionally make news after attacking and killing somebody’s small pet. In general though, the canines prey on smaller game such as voles, mice, squirrels, rabbits, birds, turkey eggs and the like. While turkey hunters have discussed how to minimize the negative impact coyote populations may have on wild turkey numbers, such debate has largely been absent among deer hunting circles. But that is changing.
A study conducted by U.S. Forest Service Research Wildlife Biologist John Kilgo at Savannah River Site in South Carolina reveals a stark picture of coyote predation on deer populations. The site, a 310-square-mile nuclear processing facility operated by the Department of Energy, is virtually all undeveloped pine lands, creating a unique real-world laboratory for researchers such as Kilgo to study wildlife dynamics in the southeast—an area largely devoid of natural predators…until now.
The Predation Effect
“Until five years ago, nobody was worried about the coyote’s impact on deer,” says Kilgo. “Now we have evidence that they are significantly impacting some populations.”
But the problem isn’t one that affects mature deer. At least not in the Southeast.
The concern is with fawns, particularly in their first week of life when they are most vulnerable. While studies on coyote predation have been performed in the past, none have been carried out with the immediate data collection ability that Kilgo’s team has been able to achieve.
As part of the study, Kilgo and his research assistants implanted transmitters into pregnant does in the winter. Then when the does dropped their fawns in the spring, the transmitters alerted the researchers so they could go in right away and place radio collars on the fawns. Past studies centered on researchers finding fawns on their own, typically a week or more after they were born. The difference that first week makes in a fawn’s ability to survive a potential coyote attack appears to be significant.
“A lot of other studies may have underestimated the effects of predation by catching fawns that are a week or more older,” says Kilgo. “We’re seeing as much as seventy-five percent mortality with some populations, with predation results ranging overall in the neighborhood of fifty to eighty percent.” Even at the more conservative average of 75 percent, that is three out of every four fawns being lost to coyotes.
Be Prepared to Share
This is not good news for wildlife managers and property owners managing their lands for optimal deer herds. Part of their management regimen may soon need to include some effort at predator control. Nobody wants to see whitetail hunting diminished for the benefit of another species.
The truth is even if every one of us takes to the woods in an effort to reduce the number of predators threatening each year’s new crop of fawns, it’s unlikely that we can ever completely eradicate the coyote from its new range. When asked what he sees as the most likely outcome in this battle, Kilgo is matter of fact.
“We may just have to start sharing our deer with the coyotes,” he says.