Dusty McGehee: Importance of predator control

 

As a deer hunter, I’m always trying to improve the deer herd in the areas I hunt.  I’ve written about the importance of doe management, deer density, and fawn recruitment, but one of our local predator trappers, Barry Bagwell, chimed in and said he believed coyotes were the major factor in fawn recruitment.

I reached out to Barry and told him we needed to talk, and he opened my eyes to how predator control relates to successful fawn recruitment.  The team of Barry and his partner John Burnham are THE greatest predator trappers in Lincoln Parish.

Trapping has been popular since the beginning of mankind.  People trapped for pelts to make clothing or to sell to trading posts.  As society has progressed, trapping has become a lost art.  Mainly because pelts don’t have much monetary value these days.

However, Barry and John have utilized old school techniques to trap these predators for the good of our resources.  They trap coyotes, bobcats and foxes; all of which are major predators for fawns.  In fact, national studies show that coyote predation accounts for over 50% of fawn mortality in their first 3 months of life.  This was a staggering figure in my mind.  Was my article on doe management correlating with fawn recruitment incorrect?  Not necessarily, but the more I talked with Barry, the more I leaned towards predation being a major factor.

In Lincoln Parish and surrounding areas, the landscape is dominated by cattle and chicken farmers.  If you add 4 months of deer season to this, it truly becomes the perfect storm for the perfect habitat for coyote populations.  Coyotes in our area have an “all you can eat buffet” almost year-round with cattle carcasses, dead chickens, and deer carcasses disposed of during deer season.

It’s been documented that during deer season, a coyote’s diet consists of mainly deer.  Albeit most of these are at sites where hunting clubs, processors, or locals dispose of fully cleaned deer carcasses.  But what happens when deer season is over?  They transition to hunting newborn calves, newborn fawns, or resorting to where chickens are being disposed.

This presents a problem for not only farmers but for those who want to manage their deer herds.  While we might like to think we are great deer hunters, coyotes are the ultimate deer hunter.  Once their dead deer diet changes in January, they will transition to new food sources.  Unfortunately, in the spring, this means they are going after deer fawns.

Coyotes are creatures of habit.  They know where the source of food will be at different times of the year.  Once the spring green-up begins, they know to transition to areas where fawns will be born.  As I stated above, numerous studies show that coyotes are a significant reason for fawn deaths and attribute to over half of all fawn mortality.

So, what can we do about this?  Sure, you can shoot the occasional coyote that comes across your deer lane during season but you’re truly not doing much good.  Trapping is the only way to make a significant impact.

Coyotes have a vast home range.  They are known to live within thousands of acres and multiple square miles.  So, the coyote you may shoot in deer season could be 5 miles from your property during fawning season.  Barry and John have years of experience and data to prove this.

On a 200-acre tract in Hico, they were asked to come in and help with the coyote infestation.  The property had cattle, chicken houses, and was used for deer hunting.  In just over a year’s time, they trapped 105 coyotes in this small area.  Barry said that these coyotes were conditioned to travel to this location because of the abundance of food, and that these coyotes probably ranged from outside of Bernice to East of Dubach.

This number was absolutely insane to me.  After talking to Barry, researching the numbers, and seeing what impact they really had, it made me look at this in a whole new perspective.  Barry had plenty of insight on this subject, and it’s more than I can put on paper.  Hopefully we can get into the actual techniques of trapping soon, as I know this is something that interests me and should anyone else who is serious about deer management.

In the meantime, I hope to soak up as much knowledge as I can and have Barry teach me his tricks of the trade.  Am I hunter? Yes, but I’m a conservationist first and foremost.  While I love hunting them, eating them, and spending countless hours chasing them; I want to ensure that I can do all in my power for the success of a healthy deer herd.

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Dusty McGehee is a native of Downsville and a 2006 graduate of Louisiana Tech University with a bachelors in wildlife conservation. He is currently employed by WestRock and serves as an environmental engineer at the Hodge Mill. Dusty is an avid hunter and crappie fisherman, fishing crappie tournaments with his son when he is not in the woods. He and his wife Rachel have three young outdoorsmen/women: Anders (9), Ridge (7) and Mae (5). If you have a story idea or question about the great outdoors, you can reach Dusty at dusty.mcgehee@westrock.com.


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