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As many deer hunters in Georgia and the Southeast are constantly attempting to improve their property and grow bigger bucks, one factor that is often mentioned but rarely addressed is predator control. The main predators of white-tailed deer in southeast United States are coyotes and bobcats. Predation studies have shown that deer remains occur in 30-40% of coyote scat and approximately 2% of bobcat scat. Many deer hunters feel as if they do not have a coyote problem on their land because they rarely see them while in the stand or on trail cameras. I have removed up to 20 coyotes from a 600 acre property that the owner thought had no coyote issue at all. Just think, if only half of those coyotes predated a deer, that means 10 fawns that would not be recruited into that deer herd, that’s a big deal! The impact these predators have on your deer herd can likely be reduced with good habitat and herd management practices.

When we, as hunters, hear the term “predator control” the first thing that usually comes to mind is trapping. Although trapping, when done during the fawning months (May, June, July) can be an effective predator control the best methods may be to control the affects of predators on your deer herd. Trapping may only provide a temporary fix to a permanent problem. Good habitat management and herd monitoring can provide a long term buffer to coyote predation on your deer herd. These methods are:

  • Adequate fawning/escape cover – dense thickets of grasses, vines and shrubs 6-7 ft tall and shorter. 5- 7 acres per 100 acres. The closer these areas are to good, high quality food sources, the better.
  • Maintaining a healthy deer herd/ age structure- limiting antlerless harvest and implementing harvest guidelines that are specific just for your deer herd. The guidelines for your property should change almost yearly, based on camera surveys, recruitment, etc.
  • High level, year round food plot production- not just planting a food plot, but planting with a purpose. Proper lime and fertilizer regime along with planting food plots that are an adequate size full of highly nutritious plants such as clovers, legumes, and cereal grains. 3-5 acres per 100 acres.
  • Abundant native browse – using prescribed fire, seasonal disking, and mowing to create new, lush native plant growth during the spring and summer months that will provide does with the nutrients they need to prepare for fawning and give the bucks plenty of protein to allocate to antler growth and development. Prescribed fires, on average, create 2,000 lbs of deer food per acre! Native browse is usually a good indicator of overall deer habitat quality.

The effects predators have on your deer herd can be devastating depending on the condition of your property. A property that is severely lacking in the four bullets mentioned above, or even just a few of them should be very cautious of predators and what they could do to your deer herd. For example, a property with very little fawning cover, is lacking deer food in the spring and summer, and has a deer herd that has just about reached or exceeded the properties carrying capacity because of poor habitat could almost have an entire fawn class wiped out by coyotes.   On the flip side, a property that has practiced good deer and land management for a few years or more could probably take the hit of coyotes eating a fawn or two and you, the hunter, would never notice once deer season rolled around.

There is no doubt coyotes prey on deer and the coyote is here to stay. We as hunters must account for them and manage our hunting land and deer herd accordingly. Good deer and habitat management not only protects against predation, it also provides a buffer from a summer with a severe drought, a neighboring property with a “brown it’s down” policy, and it also benefits turkey, quail and other wildlife on your property. The deer herd with the most deer is not always the healthiest. A deer herd is at its healthiest when it is around 50-70% carrying capacity, this means enough food, cover, and space for bucks to grow big and adult does to have healthy fawn crops year after year. Remember, deer management is all one complete circle, if a part of the circle breaks, it will not connect, and will inevitably fall to pieces!