Hunting other hunters

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Hunters that saw much fewer deer this season than last might get suspicious that someone or something got to their deer before they did.

While there are many factors that could result in the appearance of deer in your season — like weather, the lunar calendar, scents and rut peaks — wildlife biologists are denying the affect increasing coyote populations are having on the deer populations across the state of Georgia.

Coyotes inhabit most of the United States and even in places like Alaska, all across the south, Midwest and central part of the country. They are not, however, a native Georgia species so there is no closed season for their harvest.

Coyotes are opportunistic hunters and grab what they can, when they can. If they see a fawn separated from other deer, they go in. If they are hungry enough, they coyotes have even been known to ravage through trash and debris in more populated areas and neighborhoods.

Georgia state deer biologist Charlie Killmaster answered the question, “Do I mess up my deer hunt to shoot a coyote? Is it worth it?” in a live chat session with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources this fall.

Killmaster said it is not worth it and for various reasons.

“There is collaborative research we have done with the University of Georgia and we found that coyotes have tremendous movement patterns,” Killmaster said. “They can have very large home ranges and their impact on deer is primarily limited to predation on fawns.”

What that means, he explains, is that if you are on several hundred acres of property — or even several thousand — and shoot a coyote the coyote population will just regenerate by the time the fawns are grown.

Basically, if you kill off coyotes during the deer season, a more coyotes will move in. The timing is bad.

Killmaster suggests hunting or trapping just prior to the deer-hunting season to get the timing right for protecting fawns.

“If you want to reduce their impact with trapping, all the information we have now indicates that you need to do that immediately before fawning.”

But there is still a need to control the population, he noted.

Coyote populations are increasing, especially in the southern part of Georgia and north Florida. Biologists can tell this through recruitment rates.

“Statewide, there is no doubt, we have seen an increase in the coyote population particularly in the last 15 years,” Killmaster said. “We don’t have a lot of good ways to gauge that increase of the coyote population, we have so few trappers to get information from, but we have started asking questions on our telephone survey of deer hunters and small game hunters on how many coyotes they are seeing.”

He said in general the impact the impact on the fawn crop is evident in what is called the fawn improvement rate — basically the ratio of fawns to the number of adult does.

“That’s how we regulate the reproductive capacity of the deer herd,” Killmaster said. “And as the coyote population increased starting approximately 15 years ago, we started seeing a decrease in the fawn recruitment rate. Since then we have seen a 20 percent decrease in that fawn recruitment rate at the time from late 90s until mid 2000s.”

Killmaster said the fawn recruitment rate up ticked from 2005 to 2010, and that did help stabilize the deer population some. But since, there has been a recent declining trend for deer. This has led to the doe-only days in regions like Decatur County.

The state biologists are working through an action list to stabilize wildlife and the doe-only days are just one part of that.

The coyotes have played a part in these declining roles, but there are still values in keeping coyote populations around.

Coyotes, like all animals create a balance in nature as hunters despite their reputation. There are many misconceptions about coyotes including that they hunt in packs like wolves where they are in reality lone, solitary and shy predators.

There are many ways to cut down on nuisance animals like coyotes, but many sources site trapping as the most effective option.

The best traps are foothold or live traps. But, as the Georgia Department of Natural Resources notes, coyotes may prove difficult to deceive with traps; so hunting may be the better solution. Use animal-in-distress calls to lure coyotes in.

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