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Deer Management and Thoughts on Predator Control

A fake photo of a mountain lion with a white-tailed deer

Game cameras are great for hunters and deer management because they allow 24-7 surveillance of trails, feeders, food plots, and water sources. Not only can motion-triggered cameras be used to collect valuable survey data for herd management, but they can also capture some amazing wildlife photos, such as this awe-inspiring photo of a mountain lion dragging a whitetail buck directly in front of a protein feeder and right in the path of a game camera. Although it’s a great photo that demonstrates why an unlucky hunter may not be seeing any mature bucks, the mountain lion is simply doing what it does best.

Game cameras really do capture some great wildlife photos, but not all of the time. In today’s high-tech world, anyone with a little bit of computer knowledge can splice together parts of several photos and fabricate a seemingly amazing photo. I received the above mountain lion and deer photo in my inbox at least every other day for a couple weeks now, so hunters and non-hunters apparently find this photo fascinating and are passing it around. So why do predators get so much attention? I think part of it is the mystique surrounding them. They literally kill for a living. The other reason is because we as humans love to place blame. So although I believe this photo of a mountain lion carrying a buck is fake (May 16 update: the photo is real), predator management as part of your overall deer management program could be very real. Should you attempt to control predators on your property?

In areas where good deer habitat exists, predators do not pose a serious threat to white-tailed deer populations. The only real exceptions include islands of good habitat–say 500 acres or less–surrounded by vast expanses of poor habitat and then high-fenced ranches less than 1,000 acres in size. Good habitat not only makes for healthy does, which increases fawning rate, but also provides excellent fawning habitat that promotes increased fawn survival. These two factors are critical to the recruitment of deer into the population, but good habitat will not make a difference if it’s only 200 acres surrounded by thousands of acres of poor habitat.

This is because the patch size of the habitat is important. Patch size is a biological term that refers to amount of available habitat. The smaller the patch size, the smaller the block of habitat, the more susceptible the patch becomes to the influence of predators. In the example above, the patch size of good habitat was 200 acres because it was assumed that the area surrounding it was not good habitat, as in areas over-grazed by livestock, huge bermuda fields, plowed fields, or wide open prairie. As the patch size decreases, the influence of predators of the deer population increases. In short, if there are 200 acres of prime habitat surrounded by nothing good for deer, then all of the deer and predators sink into that patch.

Now assume the patch size is 80 acres. It makes for easy pickin’ by predators. At some point the patch becomes so small that it does not function as habitat. A smaller patch increases the probability of predators encountering deer, particulary highly susceptible fawns. The same can be said about high-fenced or game-fence ranches, regardless of the habitat quality surrounding them. The issue with high-fenced ranches is that predators, such as coyotes, knowingly or unknowingly use the tall fences surrounding the property as funnels to corner deer. In low-fenced areas, deer can simply run away or run outside of the patch to safety. In high-fenced properties, deer are more prone to run down fencelines and, in a panic, continue to dart into the netwire fence and corners they can not jump.

As the size of a high-fenced property decreases, the percentage of the property that is near a fence line or corner increases. This means that smaller high-fenced ranches are more susceptible to high levels of predation than large high-fenced ranches. In addition, any high-fenced ranch is more susceptible to predation than low-fenced ranches surrounding it in the absence of predator control. This is only because taller-than-normal netwire fences impeed the escape of deer and increase the efficiency of predators.

With that said, high-fenced ranches have a greater ability to control predators than most low-fenced properties. The most notorious deer predator is the coyote because they are both numerous and crafty. Coyotes can go straight through barbed-wire fences, jump and climb 5-foot netwire fences, but 8 and 10-foot fences are a different story. As a result, coyotes can only go under high netwire fences. Slides, or locations where coyotes cross under netwire fencing, are easy to find and this makes them highly susceptible to traps, particularly snares. Smaller high-fenced properties are more susceptible to the impacts of predators on deer, but they are also easier to monitor and control.    

To sum up, smaller ranches can provide good habitat that can sustain a white-tailed deer population, but smaller properties also require more intensive predator control, especially when surrounded by poor habitat. In addition, predators are easier to control on high-fenced properties because of limited predator access, but deer within ranches surrouned by tall netwire fences are very susceptible to predation because of corning. Supplemental feeding and food plots can keep deer healthy and help them grow bigger antlers, but good habitat and predator control, when necessary, can ensure that you have a deer to manage in the future. 



32 Comment(s)

  1. That pic came off my ranch in south Texas. If you need more proof, I have the camera pics before and after in order. And also, me and a buddy found the deer head about six weeks after the kill. I have a number of pics that are at the same feeder location that are just as clear.

    Chet Markgraf | Apr 27, 2009 | Reply

  2. Unfortunately, a Pennsylvania hunter sent us your picture of a mountain lion dragging the buck, claiming the event occurred in northern Franklin Co, PA. For 3 hours, we thought the picture was real since dozens of sightings have been reported in that area since 2003. If anyone reading this e-mail has actual pictures of a mountain lion/cougar/puma in any eastern state, please contact us at epuma@hardynet.com. Thanks.

    John A. Lutz | Sep 10, 2009 | Reply

  3. Another person sent me this pic stating that it came from a tree cam in northern New Jersey. Though it is a slim possibility that a mountain lion like this could be running around, I think it’s highly unlikely around here as it’s way to populated an area for something this size to not go unnoticed. Why people lie about something like this is beyond me. If anyone has heard of cats like this in the NJ area, please let me know. byekryam@aol.com). Thanks

    Woody | Sep 25, 2009 | Reply

  4. Is that a mule deer?

    chris | Sep 27, 2009 | Reply

  5. Got this same picture sent to us 9/28/09 claiming the cougar was in Oden, Indiana. Indiana of all places. The only thing that has been spotted around here is bobcats. And of course Big Foot! :)

    Pearl | Oct 1, 2009 | Reply

  6. I received this picture last night stating it was taken in the Oakey Woods WMA in Houston County, Georgia. I researched due to my disbelief and found this site. I can, however, vouch for the presence of mountain lions of this size in Wilcox County, Georgia.

    Jason Ledford | Oct 4, 2009 | Reply

  7. You all will be surprised and impressed to learn this cat is now in NY State! And still dragging that buck. The picture was given to my husband today with the report it was taken in a nearby town. Several locals have “seen” this guy “several times.” Nothing like a good Mt. lion rumor.

    jan skidmore | Nov 24, 2009 | Reply

  8. Chet, I would like to know where this pic was taken exactly. My hunters have seen a cat on my property and I would like to know if this could be him. Please let me know. Thanks.

    Robert | Jan 21, 2010 | Reply

  9. That cat sure gets around. Story is he’s in Kentucky heading for West Virginia and Ohio. Sure peaked my interest until I found this site. Thanks for getting to the bottom of this!

    John Kerr | Dec 2, 2010 | Reply

  10. Last night that cat was 9 miles south of Lake Nebagemon, Wisconsin… which would have placed it right in Solon Springs… my home town…lol

    Genavive | Dec 10, 2010 | Reply

  11. You would think that cat would have eaten some of that deer by now. He has been spotted in the Texas Panhandle… STILL dragging that deer.

    Jerry Winegar | Jan 18, 2011 | Reply

  12. I also heard that this pic was taken in western Kansas.

    Bill | Feb 27, 2011 | Reply

  13. Growing up in the Texas Hill Country where my high school mascot was the panther, this picture was pretty obvious as to the location!

    Hill Country Gal | Mar 16, 2011 | Reply

  14. I would like to see these pictures you claim to have.

    john | Nov 21, 2011 | Reply

  15. Columbus, Texas, possibly?

    Austin Moore | Nov 23, 2011 | Reply

  16. Now this cat has made it’s way to Tifton, Georgia, supposedly near the high school…

    Jane Smith | Dec 7, 2011 | Reply

  17. Now he’s been sited in Harris County Georgia. More specifically, Ellerslie. What a cat!?

    BaldyPal | Dec 12, 2011 | Reply

  18. Hey Chet, could you send a pic of the find of the head? I come across people saying this is from their ranch or their buddies ranch so, I’m trying to help spread the truth. If you would send the pic to Buck Manager they could stick it on with all the other proof photos.

    Mateson Gutierrez | Dec 19, 2011 | Reply

  19. This picture is on FaceBook now, saying it was taken in Dent County, Missouri. What a famous and well-traveled cat!

    Michele | Dec 28, 2011 | Reply

  20. Apparently this pics has been making its rounds and different owners claiming it.

    Not cool

    John | Jan 11, 2012 | Reply

  21. Wow I can’t believe this picture is still circulating. Honestly I’ve heard that this was taken in every state BUT Alaska and Hawaii. Guess they’re next in line! Sure hope this cat knows how to swim!!

    Kris | Jan 29, 2012 | Reply

  22. This very same cat with the exact same deer in front of the very same feeder had this very same picture taken this week on a game cam in Webster County, West Virginia. Still making the rounds… on facebook.

    Bridget Kelley-Dearing | Feb 8, 2012 | Reply

  23. That cat has been carrying that deer for a long time. He’s made it up to Turner, Maine!

    Linda | Feb 18, 2012 | Reply

  24. Well, now the mountain lion and buck have made it to Mangum, Ok and is being claimed the picture was from deer camera on family farm!!

    Peggy | Mar 28, 2012 | Reply

  25. WOW SAME CAT SAME DEER APPEARED IN OUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER AND HE IS NOW IN … MANGUM, OKLAHOMA.. HE AND THAT DEER SURE GET AROUND .

    James Hopkins | Mar 31, 2012 | Reply

  26. This week, the same cat dragging the buck was spotted on Holden Hill, in Langdon, New Hampshire!!!

    Erik | May 9, 2012 | Reply

  27. Just received this pic after a week of rifle season here in Kentucky. Word was it had been taken in Wayne County. I suspected a fake and found this site.

    T. J. | Nov 21, 2012 | Reply

  28. Now it has showed up on face book in Van Buren, Missouri.

    Chris Darby | Nov 21, 2012 | Reply

  29. Well, this lion was spotted dragging that deer last year in Maine, and today was on facebook in Connecticut. LOL. That meat must be pretty rank by now!

    Christina | Dec 2, 2012 | Reply

  30. Well it’s made its way to CT….long trek….:-)

    Dale J Martin | Jan 14, 2013 | Reply

  31. Accordinf to FB it has made its way to Cleburne County, Alabama. Pretty impressive I’d say.

    Mat V | Aug 8, 2013 | Reply

  32. Last year it was reported to have been taken in the Grand Lake area of Grove, Oklahoma. Now its in Van Buren, Missouri…… long way to drag a buck.

    Allen | Nov 4, 2013 | Reply

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