Deer are one of the most intensively-managed game species in Oklahoma and Texas. I work with countless landowners, hunters and land managers around the region and most of the questions I receive are related to some aspect of deer management. Whether it is estimating buck age or food plot questions, deer management is an exceedingly hot topic. One of the most common questions regards predator removal to decrease predation on fawns.
Removing predators such as coyotes can benefit fawn recruitment in the short term and may be necessary in areas with low deer numbers or poor habitat. On the other hand, if you fail to harvest enough does, causing herd densities to exceed the carrying capacity of your property, coyotes and other predators may actually benefit your herd by helping keep deer numbers in check.
Many properties in northwest, central and eastern Oklahoma have deer densities at or above the habitat’s carrying capacity as well as skewed buck to doe sex ratios and a poor representation of mature bucks. When deer herds like this are poorly managed, an increase in doe harvest by hunters along with some predation on fawns may help keep deer densities from reaching unhealthy levels. In some cases, predators are not a hindrance to deer managers, depending on the situation and management goals.
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While adult deer are occasionally killed by predators, fawns are much more vulnerable. To understand when the greatest fawn threat exists, it is important to examine deer reproduction. Does carry fetuses about 200 days and give birth in May and June across Oklahoma. This is the optimum time for predators such as coyotes and, to a lesser extent, bobcats, to kill and consume fawns. Raccoons, feral hogs, and dogs will also kill and eat newborn fawns if they stumble onto them. While the trapping season for furbearers such as bobcats and raccoons ended February 28, coyotes and feral hogs are always in season. May is a great month to get out and do some trapping when does are giving birth.
Several research studies have been conducted to examine the impact predators have on fawn recruitment. One study by Cory Vangild under the guidance of University of Georgia professor Dr. Karl Miller, which considered intensive predator removal prior to the 2007 fawning season to limit predation, showed a dramatic increase in fawn survival. Comparison of white-tailed deer fawn-to-doe ratios collected from observation data, camera surveys, and web camera observations, before and after predators were removed increased on average 189 percent after predator removal. The study showed increases in fawn recruitment following predator removal, coupled with dietary analyses of the most likely deer predators (coyotes and bobcats), supported the conclusion that predators (primarily coyotes) were limiting fawn recruitment.
Results of this study also showed that in seasonal diets of coyotes and bobcats, coyotes consumed deer significantly more than bobcats, particularly during the fawning season. Results suggest predation, particularly by coyotes, may reduce recruitment in some areas and that intensive predator removal just prior to fawning may be effective at increasing fawn recruitment in areas where herd productivity does not meet management objectives.
Managers who believe fawn recruitment on their properties is abnormally low and they are doing “everything else” management-wise by the book, perhaps should consider trapping and removing coyotes prior to the fawning season. This is a great off-season activity to get kids involved with the outdoors, not to mention the benefit other game species like turkey and quail receive as a result of predator removal.
To involve a professional trapper, contact your local USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) specialist. More information can be found at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/
For more information regarding deer and land management, visit our website at http://oces.okstate.edu/cleveland/agriculture/wildlife-management-1