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Bustin' coyotes: predator control during spring and summer is critical to ensure the safety of vulnerable newborn fawns. Control coyotes now for a higher fawn recruitment.

There might be debate as to how quickly the coyote population is growing or how best to address the situation, but there's no doubt these predators prey on whitetail fawns. Research from areas throughout whitetail country confirms coyote-induced fawn mortality surges during June and July, when fawns are most vulnerable.


Statistics show consumption of whitetail fawns by coyotes increases drastically during the spring months. In fact, fawns can account for more than 70 percent of a coyote's diet during this time.

As a wildlife damage specialist for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, Randy Roede has spent more than 40 years hunting predators. Over the last 14 years, he's hunted them professionally. He finds it harder to kill his fur-covered quarry during the spring for multiple reasons. First, a spiking trend in high-pressure predator hunting has educated many coyotes. Most importantly, though, spring coyotes become increasingly hard to coax in due to their relentless targeting of whitetail fawns.

Randy can't control the Influx of misinformed predator hunters, but he can warn and educate wildlife managers who are serious about protecting deer and eradicating coyotes. Learning how to avoid educating coyotes is lesson No. 1, because coyotes that escape hunters learn more than how to be evasive. They also discover easier food sources, one of which happens to be spotted and born in the spring.

"As the average age of the coyote population increases, they experience another year of hunting pressure through the fawning season," Randy says. "When pressured, they learn a certain food source is around and target it heavily."

Another of my friends lives just down the road from Randy in South Dakota. Over the last few years, he's been watching fawn recruitment plummet. The Great Plains landscape where he lives offers an open-country view of deer, allowing him to tally fawn recruitment with a spotting scope. By early last fall, he'd disappointedly recorded approximately one fawn for every 10 adult does. Other factors might be in play, but he points a finger at increasing coyote predation.


As coyote populations become more established across many areas, hunters now more than ever need to consider spring and summer predator control.

Photo by Mark Kayser

In response to the dramatically negative results of his informal fawn recruitment survey, my friend has started hiring aerial hunters to help in the coyote cull. As I write this in the winter of 2017, they've already killed 46 coyotes off 1,200 acres in a week's time. And he's not done yet.


Once considered a Western problem, coyotes have now spread from coast to coast, and wildlife managers are seeing the impacts everywhere.

Studies from the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina demonstrate just how impactful coyotes can be in new environments. Their research indicates approximately 70 percent total fawn mortality, with coyotes being responsible for approximately 80 percent of those deaths.

There are inconsistencies, though, as some areas are reporting much different data. For instance, parts of Wisconsin record a coyote/fawn mortality rate of only 12 percent, while Virginia data show 18 percent. Naturally, the percentages increase or decrease depending on location and other environmental factors.

Researchers at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences verified the impact of coyotes in published research. Duane Diefenbach, adjunct professor of wildlife ecology and leader of the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, has conducted extensive research on whitetail fawn mortality.

According to Prof. Diefenbach, "Only an average of one in two [fawns] survives its first three months of life, which is when most mortality occurs. Predation by coyotes, black bears and bobcats accounts for most mortality."

The study conducted by Penn State's Ag-Science program confirms that an alarmingly high percentage of fawns are killed by predators, Including black bears, bobcats and coyotes. Of course, coyotes will often take most of the spotlight, as they inhabit a broad range of areas, including those that lack high populations of other predators. Upon completion of its study, Penn State provided a suggestion that might surprise you. Instead of solving the issue with intensive coyote control, the researchers instead recommend that wildlife managers manipulate doe harvest to increase or decrease whitetail numbers.

Under the right circumstances, doe management is a viable solution, especially considering that hunters still account for the highest predation of whitetails in North America. Lowering the overall doe harvest to boost fawn recruitment works best when done in combination with providing quality fawn refuge habitat. (Editor's note: See Dr. James Kroll's tips on improving fawning cover on page 14.)


Although data on fawn mortality vary widely across North America, recent trends indicate an alarmingly high percentage of newborn deer are falling victim to coyote predation. Photo by Mark Kayser

Predator control works collectively with these efforts. Of course, if you only have so much habitat to work with and you already manage does for optimum fawn production, why not add coyote control into the mix?


Coyote management requires a year-round plan. The reason is simple: A property that's properly managed for wildlife is like a Garden of Eden, and that will attract bad apples. Even when you remove a coyote from your property, it doesn't take long for another one to figure out that a rental unit is open. Depending on where you live, coyotes can range anywhere from a few miles to more than 100. And they're territorial. When they find a pleasing pad with no competition, they'll quickly move in and take over. Basically, removing one coyote means another will move in soon after.

Year-round predator control should combine a trapping plan with predator hunting. In the spring, you can target problem coyotes with calls effectively, due to the nature of their lifestyle. Basically, killing a coyote in spring or summer means saving the life of one or more newborn fawns.


Coyotes birth and raise pups in the spring, which means they'll be feeding a host of ever-ravenous youngsters. Adult coyotes will also be even more defensive and territorial during this time. Adults share the weight of parenting duties, and that includes setting up a security system around their den area. Set your traps accordingly, but don't be afraid to engage in calling simultaneously during the warm-weather months.

To be successful at calling, you first need to locate where coyotes are living on your property. You need to find their dens. This puts you close enough to call coyotes using most calls and to threaten adultsinto revealing themselves as they defend their young.

Your best bet for locating denning areas is to spend time on your property at dawn and dusk. Listen for howling coyotes and note those locations. Coyotes will spend more time close to the den site and their first vocalizations will likely be near the den. You can instigate a howling response by howling at coyotes from afar. A lone howl will often draw a reply.

Locating denning areas can be challenging when dealing with coyotes that don't vocalize. In this case, you'll need to do some CSI investigating. Begin by looking for consistent water sources. More often than not, a den is within a quarter-mile of water.

Coyotes prefer to arrive and depart from a den site under a veil of cover. Such cover includes brush, fence lines, hedgerows or other sources of vegetation. Coyotes will often rob the dens of other animals or enlarge natural washouts for den duties. They try to keep dens out of areas prone to flooding, and, in regions of extreme heat, they'll sometimes make their dens in the shade. In northern areas, they might establish a den in the sun for warmth.

If you've zeroed in on a den site, you'll want to confirm activity. Coyotes will often clean out backup den sites near the area of the den they're using. Visual activity or the presence of fresh tracks around the hole is often enough to verify, especially fresh tracks found after a downpour. One clue you're close to a den site is a coyote that stands its ground. If a coyote doesn't run off, it could be guarding a den area and trying to determine your intentions. If you ever encounter a coyote that won't flee while you have a dog with you, you're likely close to a coyote domicile. Retreat and come back later, ready to hunt.

Coyotes primarily breed in February, with pups born in April. This schedule can vary, but it's a good general rule. A female will stay with her pups in the den for up to the first week, and begin weaning after eight to 10 weeks.


When hunting spring and summer coyotes, don't forget the basics. You need to keep the wind in your favor, and you should always leave yourself a good opening upwind. Make sure you're able to see incoming coyotes that circle downwind. As a general rule, if the wind doesn't favor your setup, abort the mission.

In spring and summer, coyotes often will respond to vocalization calls to see who's invading their homeland, especially during pup-rearing months. When vocalizations work, coyotes will advance to drive invaders away.

Shotguns loaded with coyote medicine, such as Hornady's Heavy Magnum Coyote, might be better in thick cover. Even in open terrain, a backup shotgun can become a welcome solution for face-to-face challenges.

Calling techniques can be broken into three categories: challenges, distress and prey. Consider a challenge when pups are still in the den or barely emerging. Maintain a minimum distance of 200 to 400 yards from the den site and use a lone howl or challenge howl. Be prepared for a parenting coyote to either approach slowly to evaluate the danger or charge in ready to engage in battle.

The pup distress call is another extremely effective strategy this time of year. Not unlike human toddlers, coyote pups tend to get into trouble when they begin to wander around the den site. When wind conditions favor, move closer into the den vicinity and vocalize with pup distress calls.

As summer progresses, prey distress calls become increasingly productive. The sounds of prey in peril can lure in adult coyotes looking to feed hungry pups. And as pups begin to fend for themselves, they'll be eager to take advantage of any unlucky rodent around. Using a remote caller set in an opening can direct coyote attention away from you and toward the sound.

Lastly, if you do shoot adult coyotes, it's wise to smoke out their dens to kill the orphan pups. Block or watch any exit holes and use smoke to force any coyotes out of the hole. Follow-up raids on coyote dens can be very effective on removing coyotes to help fawns escape the jaws of death.


Managing land for whitetails requires a farmer's touch, an attentiveness to biology and some common-sense predator control. I'm not saying it's easy, but predator hunting can provide you with some great off-season action while also helping your deer herd mature and produce more trophies.

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Author:Kayser, Mark
Publication:North American Whitetail
Date:Jun 1, 2017
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