On Predator Control: Coyotes and Whitetail

Many hunters and landowners believe that predators are a major threat to deer management on their properties. Over most of the white-tailed deer’s range the primary predator of concern is the coyote. It’s true, coyotes do kill and eat deer. The real question is, “How many deer do coyotes kill each year?” That is a hard one to nail down because it depends on many local variables, but it is a question that many hunters and deer managers would like to have answered.

There are other animals that will also kill deer, such as bobcats, bears, feral hogs and mountain lions, but because of a hosts of variables, these species are typically believed to have little impact on local deer populations. But coyotes, well, that is one animal where most deer hunters will say predator control for the benefit for a whitetail deer herd should take place. It’s a rather simplistic view, but in a few cases it could be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Source: “When Marlin Smith placed his Moultrie trail camera on his hunting lease this summer, he was hoping to capture some stunning whitetail deer pictures. Those hopes were realized within the first week of the camera being in the woods, but in a gruesome way that Smith would have never imagined.

Documented in extreme detail was the grisly death scene of a record-class buck at the jaws of some blood-thirsty coyotes.

Smith, a northeast Texas resident, had placed his camera on his 4,800-acre deer lease in nearby Oklahoma. The property he hunts is owned by a large timber company. It is located in some foothills far removed from paved roads and county highways. This is the third year he has been deer hunting the property. But it is the first time he has ever seen brutal whitetail deer pictures like the ones in this series.”

Most deer biologists will tell you that predators do kill deer, but at a rate that only results in minor deer losses. Some will profess that predator control is a critical part of deer herd management, a practice necessary to maintain the balance between deer predators and whitetail. The fact of the matter is that both sides can be right.

In areas with good deer habitat, coyotes alone are unable to control deer numbers. It just will not happen unless other factors are at play. Keep in mind that I specifically said in areas good deer habitat. In these situations, coyotes can provide a level of “control” to slow the growth of a local deer herd, but they will not cause it to decline. Controlled deer harvest will still be a necessary part of the overall management equation.

Coyotes Kill Huge Whitetail Buck Coyotes Kill Buck

Whitetail Deer Hunting: Big Buck Killed by Coyotes Coyotes Kill Buck Deer in Oklahoma

It’s important to remember that whitetail deer are currently negatively impacting the plant communities in which they live because of overpopulation across the deer’s range. This has happened in the face of growing predator populations. Coyotes take their biggest toll on fawns, but that has not kept whitetail deer from thriving in one of the most coyote-rich areas in the world, South Texas.

The game camera photos of coyotes attacking and killing an Oklahoma deer bring to life most hunter’s biggest nightmare, predators removing a big buck from the deer population that they themselves could have shot. After all, the buck was really nice. What deer hunter would not have loved to put their tag on that animal? I think it’s reasonable to assume that this coyote-killed buck was nothing more that compensatory mortality. It was highly probable that the buck was ill and would have died anyway. The coyotes were just doing what they naturally do—removing the sick and the weak from the deer herd.

15 Replies to “On Predator Control: Coyotes and Whitetail”

  1. I was hunting down in Idaho near Rockland and we have seen 10-15 dead deer with chew marks and coyote prints near the bodies. They are becoming more and more fearless.

  2. We have about 1,500 acres in West Virginia and my uncle is hard-headed and wont let use shoot does. Over the past few years the bucks that we’ve been killing are dwindling. This year is the worst with only 9 deer taken so far. Last year there were 20 on the the first day. Any advice?

  3. Zach it is important for your uncle to understand the necessity of thinning the doe population. It does make a huge difference in a short time period (say one deer season) Where I hunt in South Louisiana on 800 acres we harvest approximately 7-12 does a season and only harvest bucks 6 points or better with a spread outside of the ears. We are talking about going to 8 points or better because managing the herd this way for 6 years now has established a better herd. It is important for you to relay your message in a way that your uncle understands he is only hurting your deer population. Remember conservation is important but not always by not harvesting.

  4. While snowmobiling 2002 in Jordan Minnesota along the river bottoms we came across a downed deer. The area looked like a blood bath, and fresh. All around us were these tracks. I had never seen tracks like this before. When I realized they were big cat tracks, we booked ass out of the area.The cats paw was a good 6″ wide. Since then we have found many other paw prints by cougar. Funny though how the DNR denies we have them in Minnesota…

  5. I must say that I disagree with your noted stand above that coyotes are not a problem. In addition to that I believe that this thought process has caused state game managers to over look the impact on public land until recently. Speaking for my personal experience hunting on private in south Louisiana and Alabama where the uncontrolled coyote population has had an extremely negative impact on both the deer and rabbit population. In one location with only light trapping for three years we have seen a positive difference with the heard starting to build where it has been stagnant to declining for over 10 years. I am hope full with the new attention to this issue that on public lands we will see some intervention by game managers. We need public lands to hunt on as the deer heard declines so does the number of hunters and the revenue. Good Hunting to all of my blood brothers

    EAD from South Louisiana

  6. Eugene, just to clarify, the article is suggesting that coyotes do not typically pose a severe problem with regards to whitetail deer in areas that are comprised of good deer habitat. I can not speak to the quality of the deer habitat where you hunt, but since it is also public land there could be some issues with regards to hunter density/hunting pressure.

    Ideally the state game agency should be conducting surveys to manage the deer herd. If the deer population has declined, then my recommendation would be to stop all deer harvest in the area until the deer population recovers. Can’t expect it to bounce back if the hunting continues.

  7. My problem is a lot of the cyotes around here have been found to have small undigested hooves about the size of your fingernail in their gut, and that tells me they are eating young deer.

  8. Coyotes are the number one deer predator. If anything is getting after fawns, it’s going to be coyotes. The best thing to do implement some predator control but more importantly provide good habitat and get the buck to doe ratio closer to form a shorter fawning window.

  9. Be aggressive on coyote control as soon as the deer hunting season is over. Cooler months will produce better results. Coyotes become very keen on human activity in the woods. Your hunting habits and theirs will change by the day while hunting these animals, ie. moon phase, temperature, wind, available prey for them, ect., so change up the way you go about your methods in the field. Some coyotes are more aggressive than others and they will pack to accomplish a task.

    Just remember… they live by there senses and they live by doing one thing, and that is eating. I have been lucky to hunt these animals for a living and find the more time you spend in the woods the more you will learn. Good luck.

  10. Predation is key to a healthy ecosystem, However if coyotes get to dense in an area they can reduce other wildlife populations, but a balanced approach is key. Fragmented habitat and lack of biodiverstiy contributes to road kill and lack of genetic diversity which can bring on disease and is a bigger issue with management.

  11. Interesting discussion on this post. Down here in SE Alabama, I have been getting more and more coyotes on the trail cams. I wonder now if its a coincidence we’ve been seeing fewer deer as well?

  12. I have found multiple dead deer clearly killed by coyotes and my neighbor runs a farm and all her cats disappeared. I would not say that we have a coyote problem but they do impact herds. I have to say that in the last few years our bucks seem to be getting bigger and stronger in number though.

  13. I found a doe and two fawns downed by our bait pile in Michigan. There are some canine tracks around them. I don’t know if they are wolf tracks or coyote tracks, but this is hopefully not a start of a problem.

  14. Kyle, that is interesting that you found three dead deer in one area. Coyotes typically stop killing after an initial kill, but not necessarily. Not sure about wolves since there are none in any of the areas I hunt. Put a camera on the pile and you may catch some of the action.

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