Do Coyotes Really Affect the Whitetail Herd?

Do Coyotes Really Affect the Whitetail Herd?

Diamonds of frost burst from a field of bluestem as six thick-coated coyotes parted the grass and trotted single file like a mission-driven SWAT team. After the morning hunt I told my hunting buddy about them.

“Why didn’t you shoot?” he asked.

“I didn’t want to spook any deer,” I said.

“So you’d rather they kill the deer?” he replied.


To what extent do predators impact the deer herd on my small property? Do I need to do something? Can I do something?


What I found after reading studies and talking to biologists surprised, confounded, and encouraged me.

The Predator-Prey Balance

There’s a reason why predators roam your whitetail property.

If it holds deer then it has the habitat that benefits other types of wildlife. Prey animals attract predators. A healthy ecosystem necessarily contains both predators and prey. Predators keep wildlife populations in check, ensuring they don’t overbrowse the land past its carrying capacity. And while humans can influence predator populations with aggressive, sustained eradication campaigns, predators do a pretty good job of self-regulation. For example, when prey gets sparse, coyotes tend to move to other locations and also compensate by having fewer pups per litter.

Biologists assure us that eliminating all predators—if that’s even possible—is not the answer to improving your deer hunting. Regional studies differ, but the average mortality rate on whitetail fawns caused by bobcats is only around five percent. Coyotes do much more damage: somewhere between 20 and 70 percent of fawn mortality in the first 12 weeks of life depending on many factors. Foxes have negligible impact.


“While coyotes do prey on whitetail deer, the ones being killed are usually the sick, old, and young,” said Dallas Barber, big game biologist for Oklahoma’s Department of Wildlife Conservation. Sure there are cases of individual coyotes or bobcats killing adult deer, but it’s rare enough that most biologists say it doesn’t impact the overall herd in a meaningful way.

Think You’ve Got Too Many ’Yotes?

Nonetheless, if you’re worried about predators robbing your property of its maximum deer potential, the first thing you should do is to take an honest assessment of your deer herd and the land.

In a study titled “The Impact of Predators on Deer in the Southeast,” David A. Osborn and Mark D. McConnell wrote that “if trail camera surveys and hunter observations suggest a deer herd is stable or growing in spite of predators, there is no reason to take actions against predation.


“In fact, predators might help to better manage the deer herd by reducing deer numbers. When information suggests that fawn recruitment is low, predation might be a problem. However, before turning to predator control as a solution for poor fawn recruitment, landowners must first be sure the habitat is providing enough quality nutrition and cover. Is the deer herd in balance with the available habitat? If not, then removing predators will only make the problem worse.”

Realizing this, however, I still can’t help but wonder what would happen if I thinned the number of predators on my property. Wouldn’t I have more deer then? Although research varies wildly regionally based on factors like food, cover, snowfall, and deer harvests, the simple answer is maybe.

“If landowners want to lessen the impact of coyote depredation, they should focus on the fawning months,” said Barber. “May through August would yield the best results on protecting young fawns, ensuring they make it to adulthood.”

The longer answer is, if copious time and money are spent reducing predators each year—and especially in the fawning season—properties that have low deer populations can see a significant increase. One experiment in Texas doubled its fawn survival rate—but only for a year or two until the predator populations bounced back. And they almost certainly will without sustained, thorough eradication. What’s more, a fawn survival rate that is double the natural rate (with predators) is likely not good, either. Habitat can sustain only so many deer until it would require supplemental feeding, as is so common in high-fence areas like those in Texas.

In all but the most controlled operations, land managers can more effectively increase low whitetail numbers by reducing their adult doe harvest. At the same time, killing some coyotes isn’t going to hurt deer—and certainly not the coyote population.

Reasonable Steps to Predator Control

If you feel the predator-to-deer balance is out of balance on your property, first make sure your deer population is actually down via systematic study or, ideally, professional counsel and not just by noting how many deer you see during a few days hunting. Next, ensure the deer have adequate cover. Woods with little underbrush—specifically pine forests—make finding fawns easier for predators.

You can install food sources, such as chestnut trees and food plots, do prescribed burns to encourage new forb growth—healthier does mean healthier fawns—and discontinue harvesting adult does. Then take some coyotes in the fawning months by hunting and trapping.

Chances are, predators aren’t damaging your deer herd as much as you think, and they could actually be helping it. Still, something about that pack of marauding coyotes I saw makes me want to break out my .22-250 and a Johnny Stewart caller. Besides, hunting coyotes is great fun, too. As a hunter and not a rancher, I’ve decided I don’t want to kill them all even if I could. Indeed, my life is enriched by hearing their howls at night. But I also don’t mind collecting a few furs for the den. In all wildlife management, moderation is usually best.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Sighting In the CZ .557 Carbine

Sighting In the CZ .557 Carbine

Kevin Steele sights in his CZ .557 carbine rifle that he plans to use on a Colorado elk hunt.

Fare Game: Venison Cheeseburger Bites

Fare Game: Venison Cheeseburger Bites

If you're tired of the same old jalapeno and cream cheese poppers, here's a completely different take on the popular party appetizer. Easy to make, and incredibly delicious, these mini cheeseburgers, wrapped in bacon, make the perfect one-bite-fits-all snack for your next tailgate party or hunting camp.

Top Ten Hunts

Top Ten Hunts

Here at Petersen's Hunting we have compiled the 10 best hunts caught on camera from the last 2 years of Petersen's Hunting TV. Enjoy!

B&C Typical Mule Deer

B&C Typical Mule Deer

Doug Burris Jr's typical mule deer taken in 1969, could just be one record that will never be broken.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

If you're spending time in the outdoors where you might encounter bears, carry one of these guns. Survival

Which Firearm Is Best for Bear Defense?

Larry Case - July 11, 2018

If you're spending time in the outdoors where you might encounter bears, carry one of these...

We're deciphering new deer data for rut success. Whitetail

Daylight Deer Movement During the Rut

Jeff Johnston

We're deciphering new deer data for rut success.

Salty capers add a burst of flavor to the sauce, which pairs beautifully with the grilled venison loin in this recipe. Recipes

Grilled Venison Loin with Caper-Mustard Sauce Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Salty capers add a burst of flavor to the sauce, which pairs beautifully with the grilled...

Are you leaving some of the best parts of your turkey in the woods? Recipes

Don't Waste the Best Meat: Wild Turkey Leg & Thigh BBQ Recipe

Michael Pendley

Are you leaving some of the best parts of your turkey in the woods?

See More Trending Articles

More Conservation

Teaching young hunters increases our ranks and hones our hunting skills in the process. Conservation

How Mentoring Made Me A Better Hunter

Joe Arterburn

Teaching young hunters increases our ranks and hones our hunting skills in the process.

The outdoor industry gets serious about recruiting new hunters with some curious marketing strategies. Conservation

Are New Hunter Recruitment Strategies Working?

Andrew McKean - May 05, 2020

The outdoor industry gets serious about recruiting new hunters with some curious marketing...

The new law was deemed “onerous” and “constitutionally defective, Conservation

News Alert: California Judge Tosses Background Checks for Ammo

Petersen's Hunting Editors - April 24, 2020

The new law was deemed “onerous” and “constitutionally defective," a big win for gun owners in...

A conservation project to restore the African lion population recently scored a major victory. Find out how hunters were the driving force! Conservation

An African Lion Conservation Win, Thanks to Hunters

Brad Fitzpatrick - February 06, 2019

A conservation project to restore the African lion population recently scored a major victory....

See More Conservation

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Hunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now