Deer numbers may be dependent on reducing wily coyotes.
New England Outdoor Writers Association member David Willette of North Adams just published "Coyote Wars: A Deer Hunter's Guide to Hunting Coyotes." It should be understood that Willette is not a biologist and doesn't hate coyotes. But believing regional fish and wildlife agencies aren't doing enough to limit coyote populations, he unapologetically wants to kill as many as he can and get as many of us serious deer hunters to do the same.
Willette knows coyotes have a role in our ecosystem, but he feels their "saturated" populations are largely responsible for a drastic reduction in our deer herd and less than satisfactory deer hunting. He goes far to convince us that coyote hunting is a great and challenging sport that not enough of us dedicate ourselves to.
Willette notes that coyotes are valuable to harvest for fur or trophy, and even edible.
"Coyote meat is pale, fine, and has the texture of veal," he says. "It does need some help to taste good though."
To help us be successful and enjoy this sport, he's amassed techniques from many of our region's best coyote hunters to share with us.
Passionately holding coyotes responsible for what he sees as a great and undesirable decline in our deer herd, he's trying to rally us to also be as passionately dedicated to coyote hunting as we are for deer hunting. If he succeeds in convincing many of us to join his efforts, he believes we could once again have much-improved deer herds and better deer hunting.
"When you kill a coyote, you save a deer, a rabbit, maybe a moose, a cat, and someone's dog," he says.
Willette might also add mouse, rat, and woodchuck. His book covers baiting, calling and running coyotes with dogs. It's sure to elicit controversy, though, because some wildlife experts feel his argument is flawed.
For one thing, if you shoot the most prominently active coyotes, the alpha male and female who limit breeding to themselves in their territory, you open up breeding possibilities for many more younger, sub-dominant teenagers. Suddenly there can be an orgy of breeding, resulting in a counter-intuitive, undesirable increase in the coyote population.
Deer biologist Sonja Christensen, who bases her beliefs on hard-fact harvest numbers, says if Willette were correct in his assumptions, we wouldn't be seeing good harvest numbers of fawns and yearlings in our annual deer check in stations. We're in fact seeing a very healthy proportion of young deer brought in during the shotgun season. Likewise, we're seeing a good proportion of harvested old deer, which also would be vulnerable to too many coyotes. Harvest data just doesn't corroborate Willete's assumptions.
Furthermore, in Massachusetts, the highest density of coyotes resides in the eastern part of the state where we coincidentally have our highest density of deer. Deer co-evolved with wolves in a very intense predation scenario that naturally results in overproduction to compensate for high mortality from predators. Biologists believe our deer can naturally sustain coyote predation here.
Willette's seeing an unsatisfactory number of deer in his hunting area may or may not be a result of too many coyotes. It's highly likely, though, that several factors are responsible for lower deer density in northwest Massachusetts, including less than optimal soil and habitat quality. Does may be getting inferior nutrition, leading to lower reproduction.
Blaming the lower deer population there entirely on coyotes may not be fair or accurate. But to be fair to Willette and those who revile coyotes, it would be valuable for MassWildlife to initiate a radio collar/PhD study of fawns, which could give us hard data on predation and mortality - and settle the argument.
In the northwest part of the state where Willette hunts extensively, I frequently hear the complaint that deer numbers are below hunter's desires. But scientific goal numbers aren't necessarily meant to create easy hunting. Deer managers consider health of habitat, too. Inferior habitat can't support large numbers of deer and it's no coincidence that fertile agricultural areas have large deer populations.
Nevertheless, Willette's book is undeniably very instructive and a notable accomplishment that highlights opportunities and shares productive methods. With a little help, we can all be coyote hunters.
Whether you're a veteran or beginner, Coyote Wars can teach you a lot about killing them, if not a lot about Massachusetts deer biology. To order a well-worth-reading copy, call (413) 663-4761.
Mark Blazis can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
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