Successful deer management to grow and hunt bucks in a free-range environment has taken a new twist over the last 10 years. Just following the play book for passing bucks and providing quality food, cover, and water may not yield the results you desire. Something has changed throughout much of the range of the white-tailed deer.
It’s the number of predators. When I was a boy during the 1960s and 70s, coyotes were shot on sight by farmers (almost every farmer I knew always had a rifle in his truck). Raccoon pelts were bringing $50 and anyone I knew that was any kind of hunter or outdoorsmen trapped and/or hunted raccoons as a source of additional income. Chicken hawks (any large hawk was called a chicken hawk) were also shot on sight. These actions didn’t cause any of these predators to go extinct.
In college I was taught to feel sorry for predators. My “book learning” taught the theory that predators were almost never an issue with game species. That might have been true then (although I had a hard time buying into the theory). I was also taught in college that all natural systems are very dynamic – always changing (I certainly have experienced and agree with that!).
Whatever the theories and realities were, the current impact of predators on deer, turkey, quail and other game species are real and measurable! I had a graduate student ten years ago study the impacts of coyote and bobcats on fawn recruitment (fawns surviving until hunting season) on a private property in northern Alabama. Briefly summarized, the results were stunning! He monitored fawn recruitment during year one, then had a trapper remove many coyotes and bobcats from the 2,000 acre property during the following fawning season. During the second fawning season there was a 150+% increase in fawns at the same property as a result of removing 20+ coyotes and 10 bobcats! It appeared the turkey and rabbit population also exploded!
Since that time, much more research has been conducted that supports predators are changing the dynamics of managing deer. Several of the researchers reported results of fawn mortality documented by the use of vaginal transmitters (VITS). This technology allowed researchers to capture does and insert a transmitter in their vagina. The VIT is pushed out of the birth canal when the fawn is born and alerts the researchers by changing the frequency/tone of signal. Researchers can often find the birth site and/or fawn within four hours or less after birth.
Dr. John Kilgo, a talented researcher for the Forest Service, has years of such data. He and his staff have documented that in recent years, 70% of the fawns were killed by predators at their research site (a 300 square mile area in South Carolina) during the first few months after birth! 62% of the total mortality was due to coyotes!! This is not a guess or a theory. At this level of predation, even without any hunting mortality, deer populations will decrease in number and quality (more on the stress of predation next week).
John and his staff swabed the kill site and used advanced techniques with genetic testing to confirm if the killer was a coyote, bobcat, domestic dog, etc. Using this technology, they can tell if it was a male or female predator and if it was the same predator that killed a fawn ¼ mile or 10 miles way. John’s research is fascinating!
He ended his abstract by stating “I predict that this pressure (coyotes) will require significant changes in how deer populations are managed in the Southeast in the future, because coyotes are here to stay.”
I agree with John, but know from my student’s work and my experience, that coyotes can be trapped and their impact on deer populations reduced. Trapping and calling coyotes are fun activities (GDTV 119). However, it requires time and effort. There is no easy method to significantly reduce coyote populations. Some managers will simply let their deer herds be significantly reduced by coyotes. I, and hopefully many others, will not sit by and watch deer populations be reduced significantly by predators. I will actively call and trap coyotes to keep their population in check so deer, turkey, and other game species can maintain a healthy population.
I enjoy hearing a coyote howl. However, I enjoy seeing and interacting with deer and turkeys more. When push comes to shove, I’ll be the deer’s best friend and the coyote’s worst enemy. How about you? Will you sit by and watch America’s favorite game species be reduced to the occasional rare sighting? Or will you join me in protecting the future of hunting?
The damage by coyotes and other predators to deer and other game species is not just direct mortality. Predators also can cause much stress to game species! Next week I’ll share strategies deer hunters/managers can use to fight this change and improve the odds of growing mature bucks on their hunting grounds. While you’re waiting on that blog to come out, watch some of the coyote action caught on video by our Reconyx trail cameras here.
Growing (and protecting) Deer together,
Are you getting ready for turkey season? Time to knock the rust off! Grab your calls and follow along with champion callers, James Harrison and Steve Morgenstern, as they take us through the locating and calling techniques you need to know.
Wow! Big surprise in one of our Duke traps! We’re hustling to take out fawn nabbers before season closes.
UPDATE: Remember the big buck Peaches? Grant suspected he died from a brain abscess. The investigation is over and the evidence shows what killed him.
Watch South Paw meet his match at the new Antler-X-Treme site!
New Weekly Blog:
Learn how stressful winter can be for deer. Find out how and why we try to help deer through this time of the year.
Tip of the Week:
Deer are seeking nutrients during the current stress period. Trophy Rock Four65 is a great source of the many minerals deer need.
Tuesday marked the end of a successful trapping season at The Proving Grounds. We’re excited to have removed 41 predators from the property by trapping daily and using a variety of baits to bring them into our Duke traps. That means most likely more turkey poults, quail chicks, and fawns will survive!
The GrowingDeer Team has been trapping predators consistently for seven years in an effort to balance the predator and prey population. We’re serious about trapping because studies show that racoons, opossums, and skunks are intense nest predators. Turkeys are especially susceptible to predation because they nest on the ground for approximately 28 days and then roost on the ground for approximately two weeks until the poults can fly.
It almost always rains at least once during the nesting season and wet hens have an odor even humans can easily smell. This makes it very easy for predators to find turkey nests and consume all the eggs and even kill the hen at times. Researchers used to call this the wet hen theory but it’s not just theory.
Last year The Proving Grounds had a high turkey poult survival rate compared to the statewide average. This was in part because of the serious effort the team has put into trapping. As land managers and hunters, we want a healthy turkey population! By trapping predators, we are one step closer to a successful turkey season.
Watch the GrowingDeer Team battle the local coyote populations. It’s all hands on deck to hunt/trap the notorious fawn and turkey predator!
Watch Pro Staffer Heath Martin take a crack at a Kansas fawn nabber!
New Weekly Blog:
Find out how we are trying to reduce ticks and other deer parasites.
Tip of the Week:
Last year’s hides are back from the tannery! Every year we get to reap the fruits of our labor on the trap line with furs that we use as gifts or make into garments. Last year Mrs. Tracy had a beautiful blanket made from raccoon and coyote fur.
Over the past few years fur prices have plummeted. Because of rock bottom fur prices, many trappers have decided that trapping is not worth their time and money spent. This has led to increased predator populations. It is now up to land managers to step up and help balance predator numbers.
If you are trapping to help balance predator numbers listen up! Over the years we have found several tricks that can help you become more efficient with your time.
First, we like to set our traps along the interior roads of our property. We don’t spend time diving deep into the woods to find a game trail or den tree. Many times predators will use the existing road system for their means of travel. The likelihood of predators cruising by looking for a meal is increased if traps are set at intersections of roads or creek crossings. Having traps in these locations makes it very easy to check traps while simply driving through the property and limits disturbance.
We use Duke Cage traps because they are very easy to open and close. We recently had a nasty cold spell. Often, critters will den up during extremely cold nights and then come out during the first warm night. With Duke Cage traps, we can quickly close all our traps when it’s forecasted to be extremely cold or if rain is headed our way. When it’s dry and warm we can reopen the traps quickly and easily.
Placing the bait in a tin can helps protect the bait from the weather. This saves time rebaiting when we do close and reopen traps. Often times we use cheap cat food as the main portion of our bait. Cat food smells meaty and appeals to hungry predators but absorbs moisture. By placing our bait (cat food) in the tin can, we are able to close traps for a few days then reopen, and often do not need to rebait.
Even though fur prices are low, there are ways to save money on the trap line so it is more affordable and you can reap the benefits. You may not get rich this year by selling hides but trapping will provide furs to enjoy, increase fawns and turkey poults, and allow you to spend time in creation.
Hard work made easier! Watch how we prefer hauling out big bodied bucks!
New Weekly Blog:
Do you enjoy spring mornings full of gobbles? If so, now is the time to improve your turkey hunting.
Tip of the Week:
Trapping this season? Then run the roads! It's okay to trap during deer season as most predators travel along roads. Placing traps along easily traversed roads will not cause much disturbance to your hunting.
Let’s talk turkey! No, I’m not talking about Thanksgiving leftovers. Now is an important time of the year to begin thinking about turkeys. Even though deer season is still in full swing at The Proving Grounds, we are spending fewer mornings climbing into Summits and more time on the trap line. Why? Because we love chasing turkeys in the spring!
Each year the Missouri Department of Conservation takes a turkey survey. Hunters and wildlife managers record the number of turkeys and poults seen in the field. The survey helps provide an estimate of how many poults hatched the previous spring and Missouri’s turkey population. This fall, the Missouri Department of Conservation shared that poult numbers were very low across the state. However, based on our observations, The Proving Grounds has great poult numbers.
Why are there a higher number of poults at The Proving Grounds compared to most of the state? We trap predators, hard!
Each trapping season, we remove 50+ predators. That means fewer predators sniffing around looking for turkey eggs next spring. Trapping season began a few days ago and we are not wasting time. The Duke Traps are on the ground. We have already removed several raccoons and opossums – both are notorious turkey nest predators. We will start targeting coyotes soon.
If you enjoy long beards in the spring and wish for turkey and deer numbers to increase at your Proving Grounds, consider trapping. You will enjoy the results. We have!
Stay tuned for more trapping tips and techniques throughout the winter.
From the trap line,
Are you staying successful during late trapping season? We'll share our trapping tips for when temperatures plunge.
Click here to register for Spring Field Days 2016!
Tip of the Week:
Late Winter Inventory
Which bucks made it through season? Keep cameras rolling now to find out!
Winter is a great time of year for hunters, trappers and outdoor enthusiasts! Temperatures are cool, ticks aren’t active and there are so many outdoor activities to do! One of our favorite things to do during the winter months is set out our Duke traps and remove predators. In Missouri furbearer season is open from November 15 to January 31 and we take full advantage of it. Balancing the predator/prey relationship is an important part of wildlife management on every property.
Fur prices are the lowest they have been in decades. When fur prices drop this low, fur trapper numbers also drop. This means there are fewer people removing predators throughout the whitetails range. Higher numbers of predators means lower numbers of prey species like deer, turkey, and quail. It’s time for wildlife managers and hunters to step up and fill the void left by lower numbers of fur trappers.
One of the easiest ways to remove predators is setting Duke cage traps or DP’s (Dog Proof). These traps are inexpensive but very effective. We set several of these traps throughout the property every trapping season and have tremendous results with removing predators like raccoons and opossums. Trapping is a great outdoors activity during the winter months. It’s not only enjoyable but very rewarding for both the trapper and the prey!
Daydreaming of whitetails,
Want to see more deer and turkeys? Food, cover, and water are key but creating those can result in more predators also. Keeping predators in balance with prey populations is an important management tool! In this episode professional trapper, Clint Cary, will show you how to make a dirt hole set. It’s probably the most popular trapping set! Then, Adam follows up with three caught coyotes.
Tip of the Week:
Everyone loves to find a shed.
Look in bedding areas.
Food sources: Winter food is usually limited, look for sheds in these areas.
Water: Deer gotta drink.