Do coyotes significantly affect our deer herd?

In last week’s column, I reported that David Stainbrook, Mass Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Director of the Deer and Moose Project and Dr. Robert Deblinger, Deputy Director of DFW gave a presentation at the Lee Sportsmen’s Association dealing with the deer herd in Massachusetts. This column will address what they had to say regarding the predation of the deer herd.

According to studies, 30 – 50% of the fawns die each year from various causes (diseases, predators, vehicles, not genetically fit, etc). It is estimated that 20 – 35% are killed by predators (bobcats, bears, coyotes, etc) and is the main cause of fawn mortality. It is estimated that coyotes take about 25% of all fawns born. They are most successful with 2 to 3 week old fawns because they become of age when they get a little bit of scent. After that, it is not really worth it for the coyotes to try to run them down.

Yet, the deer population continues to grow because the doe’s survival is so high that it continues to produce fawns every year. Stainbrook said that Massachusetts’ numbers are quite normal.
DFW does not believe predators have a significant population level effect, otherwise, they would see it in their harvest indicator figures. The population would be coming down, but they haven’t seen that. If they did, Stainbrook said they would manage it.

In the northeast there is a narrow window for birthing. The rut needs to happen in a narrow window so that birthing occurs in a narrow window. This is good for the deer populations because it basically overloads the predators and they cannot catch them all. While they are eating some fawns the others mature to the point where they can escape. After about 6 to 8 weeks, fawn predation significantly drops. If there is a late birth, the fawns are less fit and less likely to survive the winter. If a fawn is born early, she could breed in her first year and she may not know where to go for the best cover, etc.

According to Deblinger, we cannot control our coyote population. All around us other states have year round seasons and they are not controlling their populations either. The more you shoot, the more you get. When there are really high coyote populations, the litter rates are very low. That’s because when coyote densities get high, the females have smaller litters. When the densities are low, the litters get as high as 10 or 11 young. He said that there is not a state in the country that manages its coyote populations; not by hunting or any other predator control method.

The studies indicated that black bear do not really target fawns but rather opportunistically take them. They are most successful with really young fawns, within a week or two because they can outrun and catch them.

Other bits of information: The typical range of bucks in areas like western Mass is around 3 square miles, does somewhat less. In the eastern part of the state, the area is smaller, typically 1 mile. During the rut, they will travel a little further. The 1 to 1 ½ old bucks experience dispersal so that they don’t breed their own relatives.

Deblinger stated that the deer density goals in our area (15 – 18 per square mile) are the highest in the state.

Statistics show that only one in ten hunters who receive an antlerless permit actually is successful in bagging a doe.

No Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been detected in our deer. In addition to NY, it has now been discovered in PA. All deer meat entering MA from other states which have CWD must be de-boned.

It was an excellent presentation and unfortunately space does not permit mentioning other information that was provided. After the presentation, there was a lively Q&A session. There were several experienced hunters that insisted that there are not the numbers of deer in Zones 1 -3 as there used to be. In the 1980’s and 1990’s they saw a lot more deer and they had videos to prove it. The deer are just not out there, they claim. That’s their opinion and they are sticking with it, regardless of the models, studies or statistics. *****.

Incidentally, there are more antlerless deer permits available in Wildlife Management Zones 10, 11, 13 and 14. Once on sale, the permits will remain available until sold out in each Zone. To avoid the confusion experienced last year, the sales will be staggered as follows: Zone 11 permits go on sale Tuesday, October 1, Zone 10 – Wednesday October 2 and Zones 13 and 14 Thursday, October 3. Sales begin at 8:00 AM and can be purchased on line or from any DFW District Headquarters. *****

Since 1972, the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has offered the opportunity for paraplegic sportsmen and sportswomen to hunt deer in several locations across the state during a special three-day season. This year’s hunt dates are October 31 – November 2, 2013. Locations will include Devens (Harvard/Lancaster), Quabbin Reservation (Belchertown), two properties in northern and southern Berkshire County, and Otis/Edwards Military Reservation (Falmouth). Licensed paraplegic hunters who have an interest in participating in this hunt should contact Trina Moruzzi at (508) 389-6318 or email Trina.Moruzzi@state.ma.us for more detail. *****

The Lenox Sportsmen’s Club, Cheshire Rod and Gun and perhaps other local clubs have started their Sunday turkey shoots which will probably run until the week before Thanksgiving. Check with your favorite club for details.

Next Saturday and Sunday the Berkshire Beagle Club will be having its Small Pack Option field trials. If you want to hear some good beagles working, you might want to stop by. They have a decent raffle going on, too.

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