Impact of Predators on Deer Populations

Whether true or false, there are many hunters that believe predators are responsible for eating most of the whitetail fawns born each year. On the other hand, some believe that predators cause only minor losses to fawn crops. However, most hunters fall somewhere in the middle: You will always have predators, but limiting their numbers is not a bad idea.

When talking about deer management, it’s difficult to say whether predator control is warranted on your property because all lands are different. Property differences mean variation in habitat, differences in deer density, and differences in predator density. In addition, research suggest that poor deer habitat allows predators to hunt more efficiently. Whether it does or doesn’t is not the important point, because poor habitat is bad for your deer herd either way.

In the end, the decision about predator control on a property comes down to the landowner. Most deer hunters really like to hate predators, particularly coyotes. This is the easy route since we know predators do in fact kill deer. And besides, we know coyotes don’t help your deer population get larger. But how many deer is enough? At some point, too many deer decreases deer nutrition and decreases productivity. I think that topic lends itself to a whole other article.

In terms of the white-tailed deer, the coyote is the primary predator that most landowners could live without. The coyote does likely consume the lion’s share of predator-killed fawns each year, but what percent is that of the total fawn production? It likely varies by property for the reasons listed earlier.

But coyotes are not the only animals that kill and eat whitetail fawns. Mountain lions can take down a mature whitetail, so a fawn is no challenge at all. However, though mountain lions are not very common in general, they can have a high impact on a deer population in a small area — at least for some period of time before they decide to move on.

But just about every carnivore out there consumes a whitetail fawn at some point. These secondary fawn predators would be animals such as bobcats, fox, feral hogs, and even raccoons over most of the whitetail’s range. Very young deer fawns are suceptible to a variety of predators, but habitat conditions combined with deer and predator densities ultimately determine the impact that predators have on a deer herd.

If you still have at least 6 fawns for every 10 does in early fall of each year, then predators are likely not a limiting factor in your area. If you have 5 or fewer, then poor nutrition from sub-optimal habitat conditions and/or predator populations could be to blame.

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