Deer and other mammals

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Last week I wrote about seeing numerous deer in the woods around my house and on the dirt road bordering my property. I remarked that deer seemed to be overly abundant and that more hunters were needed to reduce the numbers. I also stated that coyotes may be helpful in this regard. Since then, I have heard from some hunters that they are seeing fewer deer this season than in years past, and that recruitment of new individuals into the populations may be insufficient  to sustain healthy numbers.
I did some research on the subject and have concluded that coyote predation on deer, especially on fawns younger than six weeks old, is excessive, and that this predation along with harvest of numerous antlerless deer by hunters may be resulting in declines of deer populations.
In Texas, 81 fawns were collared and monitored. Of those, 50 percent were killed by coyotes. Researchers in Maine reported a 50 percent mortality rate of fawns resulting from coyote predation. Oklahoma authorities state that 86 percent of fawns in that state are killed annually by coyotes. Deer specialists in Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina report that coyote predation is having a substantial impact on deer recruitment in their states.
An acquaintance of mine told me that a friend of his who owns several hundred acres of rural land in Tallapoosa County learned how to trap coyotes on his property. He would boil the traps to remove any human scent, use gloves to set and bait the traps, and then would de-scent the surrounding area. He didn’t tell me what kind of bait he used nor how he would de-scent the area.  I have read that experienced trappers often spray apple cider around the trap sites to eliminate any odors that might spook the coyotes. In a relatively short time span, the man succeeded in trapping 30 coyotes. He suspects that some of them may have migrated onto his land from surrounding properties.
If, in fact, coyotes are as serious a menace to deer populations as they seem to be, and if in states that have liberal limits on the number of antlerless deer that can be killed by hunters, and deer populations are declining, authorities may deem it advisable to make harvesting of antlerless deer considerably more restrictive than it currently is.
Other game mammals of concern to many observers are rabbits. When I first moved to where I live now, about 34 years ago, I frequently saw rabbits. Swamp rabbits inhabited the creek bottom lands, and cottontails were common elsewhere. When I made a small garden, I found it necessary to erect a rabbit fence around it, because the rabbits loved to feast on sprouts of several vegetables I attempted to grow. Over the years numbers of rabbits declined, and currently there are no more swamp rabbits, and I see cottontails no more than once each month.
My dogs chased the swamp rabbits and I suspect that’s the main reason for their disappearance. The cottontails were mostly nocturnal, the dogs usually slept inside, so the rabbits had free run of the property at night. Red imported fire ants were present in substantial numbers, and I began to suspect that predation by the ants could be responsible for the decline of the cottontails. Dr. Ed Hill, formerly a wildlife specialist at Auburn, confirmed that fire ants would kill baby rabbits.
For inexplicable reasons, fire ants disappeared from my property about seven years ago, and, as I stated previously, cottontails show no signs of recovery. I’m beginning to suspect coyotes are the culprits primarily responsible for the decline of the cottontails. They are among the favorite items consumed by coyotes. Eggs and young of Bobwhite Quail and Wild Turkeys are also known to be   preyed on by coyotes. However, The decline of Bobwhites began long before coyotes became abundant, and I continue to believe predation by fire ants was largely responsible for the virtual disappearance of these ground-nesting birds.
Fire ants seem to be declining and coyotes seem to be increasing. Perhaps the state should consider placing a bounty on coyotes. Previous studies indicate that paying a bounty would be far less costly to taxpayers and probably more effective than paying public employees to kill them. Stay tuned.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Auburn University. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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