Question: “We are interested in whitetail deer management. Specifically, we want to use predator (coyote) control to increase the number of deer on our property. We have 278 acres in North Texas. We have worked on improving the habitat over the past 3 years by attempting to increase browse cover and plant diversity. From what you know, does predator/coyote control work to get deer numbers up. We’ve read that coyotes are huge predators of deer fawns. It would stand to reason that removing fawn predators would help overall survival? Thanks.”
Response: Are Predators Really Limiting Deer in Your Area?
If you are looking to protect your deer herd, is the population on of deer in the area low? If it is low, is that due to predators or is there something else you could do to better benefit the existing deer herd? In your case, it sounds like you have started to improve habitat for deer, but can more be done. Is the deer population actually low or do you just want more deer? First, figure out exactly how many deer you have by carrying out surveys for deer in the late summer. Then take a close look at the plants deer use and eat and see if this number can go up or needs to go down.
When it comes to whitetail numbers, in most cases there are better explanations than excessive predators on as to why deer populations are low. In areas where deer abundance is high, predators on is an important tool in population on control. In the absence of all predation, most hunters would be incapable of harvesting enough animals to manage a whitetail deer population on on a landscape level.
Can You Reduce Predators in the Name of Deer Management
A study conducted in 1974 on the King Ranch in Texas compared two areas, one with extensive predator control (steel traps, various poisons, and shooting) and one without any predator control. Both areas consisted of roughly 5,000 acres. The area in which predators were extensively controlled for two years showed an increase of fawn survival by an average of 68% and also a noticeable increase in overall deer abundance. After the study concluded and predator control was not continued, predator populations in the area where they had been controlled returned to the pre-study levels within 6 months (Beasom, 1974). INTENSIVE predator control worked, but the benefits stops as soon as the control ends.
With this study in mind, most landowners would not be able to conduct such extensive predator control methods and also not have the ability to access acreage of that size in this area. Predator control on small acreage may lead to you seeing less predators on that tract, while in reality no significant reduction in predator numbers has been made at the scale needed to significantly increase the survival of fawns, chicks, or poults. Coyotes can range several miles. It would take intensive coyote control to remove every predator that crosses your property. And you would have to be diligent about continuing to reduce the coyote population for years to come.
Controlling Coyotes is Only the Start
On the vast majority of properties coyotes are not the limiting factor. Research and our instincts tells us that less predators means higher deer survival, especially when it comes to fawns. It’s important to realize that more and more deer are only good up to a point, then they will begin having a negative impact on the habitat, which will in turn cause reproduction to decrease.
Predator control can have a place in a deer hunting and management program, but it should only be a component of a holistic approach. Focus on increasing food, cover, water and usable space and the habitat found on your property as well as the deer that live there will benefit.