Deer Populations Rebound With Coyote Trapping Programs
Landowner testimonies reveal that coyote-trapping programs are putting more deer back on the ground.
Spend just a little bit of time around a campfire with a bunch of deer hunters these days and the subject of coyotes is going to come up. Song dogs howl at night, their paw prints and scat line hunting-club roads, and trail cameras are photographing them—sometimes with fawns in their mouths. And to add fuel to the discussion, many hunters aren’t seeing deer like they used to.
I know several guys who have intensively managed their deer herd for years. In fact, they haven’t shot a doe in the last four or five years in an effort to bring back the population. What was the result? No increase in their deer population. I can guarantee you these guys have not overshot their deer herd. So what was the culprit? Coyotes. According to studies, these hungry predators are killing large numbers of fawns each summer.
Still, there are some biologists and researchers who refuse to stand on solid ground and tell you that killing a coyote—or as many coyotes as you can—is a good place to start when working to improve the problem of low deer populations. Instead, the standard answer seems to be that hunters need to review their management plans, while reducing antlerless harvest. And in some cases, the vibe I’m getting from the professional crowd is that we are almost being discouraged from killing coyotes.
A new coyote study conducted at the Savannah River Site (SRS), which we printed on pages 26-28 of this issue, suggests that coyote control (they trapped coyotes during the study) is not the answer to improving fawn-recruitment rates. Here is a quote from one of the researchers: “When the objective is to increase recruitment of white-tailed deer, we conclude that neither coyote control nor vegetation management appear effective.”
Simply put, I ain’t buying it.
My eyes really opened to our coyote problem a few years ago. Labeled as the “Predator Pit” theory (May 2012 issue of GON), an Auburn Deer Lab study at Alabama’s Fort Rucker discovered that in areas where coyotes were present, and deer populations had dropped to a certain low level, those deer populations would not rebound unless something was done about the coyotes. Interestingly, this was exactly what hunters had said for years, but experts scoffed at what they were saying.
So, how did we get in this situation? If you remember, the deer-management philosophy five and 10 years ago was to shoot every doe you saw. Fewer deer meant those left had more groceries to eat, and racks would grow bigger. That science works… until hunters shot their herds way down and then coyotes showed up to the party. At that point, deer numbers found themselves at unrecoverable levels in many areas.
So what is the solution to hunters who have a known coyote problem and are complaining that their deer numbers are down? It’s not to shoot fewer does… because hunters are already doing that. The answer, I believe, is to kill every stinking coyote you can.
But, the coyote study at SRS says that coyote control isn’t the answer to increasing your local deer population.
And like I said, I ain’t buying it.
I’ve reached this conclusion over the course of the last five years as a GON editor who stays on the phone daily with folks who stay in the woods a whole lot more than I do.
After hearing one personal testimony after another, I’m an absolute firm believer that the more yotes that can be killed in an area, the better chance you have of seeing an increase in your deer herd.
Wendell Arrington, of Leesburg, is the farm manager for a 4,000-acre plantation in Lee County. Three years ago, he hired professional trapper John Ethridge, of Tifton.
“I’ve seen our fawn numbers go up tremendously since he’s been trapping. In fact, I have seen an increase in all the wildlife,” said Wendell.
John traps the plantation three times a year for a total of six weeks. It’s an aggressive program, but the efforts have lowered coyote numbers, and the result has been an amazing increase in the deer population. Is it all a coincidence? Wendell doesn’t think so, and neither do I.
“I’ve farmed this land for years, and I’ve never seen the whitetail numbers on this land like they are now, they are very high,” said Wendell.
Wendell says trapping is now a much-needed tool in how he manages the deer these days. In addition to trapping, Wendell does what many of us do; he plants food plots and offers supplemental feed year-round.
“Trapping is the single-most important thing we can do on this property as far as managing deer. The best money we spend each year is the money we spend on trapping,” said Wendell.
That’s pretty stout words from a guy who says the plantation spends a chunk of change every year on feed and food plots.
Prior to the plantation’s trapping program, Wendell said he used to see a pile of yotes. Now, he can go out in the middle of the 4,000-acre tract and rarely even hear coyotes howling.
“I’ll take a Fox Pro and just see if I can get them to yelp, and you can’t,” said Wendell.
Will coyotes move back onto this 4,000-acre tract? I think so, at least at some point. However, there is a line of thinking in the world of research and biology, and it’s pretty much the theme in the SRS study, that says coyotes cover such long distances—which some do—that they will quickly fill in any void you make after killing coyotes. In other words, don’t waste a bullet or a leg-hold trap on a yote because another one will come in right behind it.
Really? I reckon we are just supposed to sit by and continue to capture trail-camera photos of coyotes carrying our fawns away in their jaws.
Wendell said he’s happy with how the coyotes have stayed off the plantation since implementing the trapping program. Wendell lives directly across the road from the plantation on the edge of another large tract that is not trapped.
“I can sit in a deer stand on the side of the road I live on (the non-trapped side), and in the course of a hunting season, I see yotes seven to 10 times and hear them every day right at dark. But I can go across the road (to the trapped side) and sit in a deer stand, and you don’t even hear or see a coyote,” said Wendell. “You won’t get 100 percent control of them, but it makes a tremendous difference.”
I shared the findings of the SRS study with Wendell, and he said, “The study basically just says throw your hands up and quit.”
That’s the picture I get, too.
See the photo on page 26? Let’s say you trapped and killed that coyote four days earlier. I can promise you one thing: That coyote wouldn’t have that fawn in its mouth.
I don’t get the throw-your-hands-in-the-air logic that says we shouldn’t waste efforts ridding coyotes since another will fill the void. According to the folks I’ve talked with the last five years, yotes slipping back onto their properties is not an overnight deal.
Chuck Chitty, of Chattanooga, Tenn., hunts 1,650 acres in Clay County, and he’s hired John to trap twice a year for the last couple of years.
“We don’t see the coyote tracks accumulated up and down the roads like we did,” said Chuck. “Our results have happened quickly in terms of the number of quail, turkey poults and fawns that we are seeing. We’re only a couple of years into it, and we’re seeing almost an immediate effect. I just think it’s only going to get better.”
Jack Welton, of Vero Beach, Fla., said trapper John has been trapping on his 1,800-acre hunting property in Randolph County for about two years, and he, too, brags about the amazing improvement in his deer herd.
“I’ve hunted the area for about 20 years, and it was about 2000 when the coyotes started showing up in big numbers,” said Jack. “The yotes just got progressively worse, and I was just seeing a fawn here and there. Over the course of the summers, I would come across two or three dead fawns while I was just driving around.”
Fast forward to today after only two years of trapping and more than 40 yotes removed from Jack’s property.
“I was up there the first weekend of October (2014), and I pulled up to my gate, and there were three mature does and eight fawns,” said Jack. “I have a guy who does some mowing, and he says every doe he sees has fawns.”
While Jack spent that week at the property, the absence of coyotes was very noticeable.
“We were mowing and working around, and I saw only one set of coyote tracks on the entire property the whole week I was there,” said Jack. “In the past, there was not a road I would go down and not see at least see one set of tracks. We’re always sitting on the porch in the evenings, and we are absolutely not hearing coyotes like we did two and three years ago. There is no doubt in the two years he’s been trapping that I am seeing a difference.”
So why aren’t coyotes quickly coming in and filling voids left on these properties, as the SRS study and many professional wildlife folks suggest? Back to Jack… reckon there just aren’t any yotes surrounding his property?
“There is a landowner, and as the crow flies, he is only a half mile from me, and they are getting more trail-camera photographs of coyotes than hogs, if you can believe that,” said Jack. “John is going to start trapping for him, I think.”
There are so many more success stories like these. These stories come with the same theme: kill yotes, increase deer numbers. Another theme, one that’s critical to the success of continuing with the goal of improving deer-population numbers, is that trapping needs to be a continued effort ina order to keep yote populations at bay. How often should you trap? I don’t know, but it probably depends on things like land size and how many yotes you got to start with and whether your neighbors are trapping. However, I wouldn’t worry about that now. I advise you just to get started!
Instead of tip-toeing around the idea of killing yotes, I’m going to suggest that the more folks we can get involved with removing coyotes from properties, the more overall good we’ll be doing for our Georgia deer herd.
And if your neighbors won’t help, hunters have shared time and time again that yotes can be held at bay—even on smaller properties—with continued trapping efforts.
Our three folks who helped with this article had great things to say about John and his ability to trap. To reach John, call (229) 325-8247.
To get started trapping on your own, find the article on www.gon.com. It’s called “Save a Fawn, Trap a Yote” and can be found by going to the “Wildlife Management” page.
I’m not arguing with the SRS study. Their researchers are experts, and their findings are true. It’s their conclusion that trapping yotes won’t improve fawn recruitment that I don’t agree with. The SRS is one of the largest swaths of land in the Southeast—it’s not typical Piedmont where you have houses, hunting clubs, roads, folks trapping here and there. I do know if I trap a yote, it won’t eat my fawns, my neighbor’s fawns and a fawn 20 miles away. I’m hoping other landowners and clubs will return the favor.
So, just like planting food plots and running trail cameras, learning to deal with coyotes is part of today’s deer-management equation.
And it’s OK to review your deer-management plans. However, the first decision I’d make today is to whack every coyote you can.