Randy W. from West Virginia writes to ask about coyotes. “We’re seeing more and hearing more coyotes all the time. The deer numbers in our area also seems to be dropping. Is this because of the coyotes, and should we be shooting more coyotes to save the deer?”
Dr. Dave Samuel
Randy, you probably have more coyotes in West Virginia than you once did. There is data on the impact of coyotes on deer that shows that they definitely eat some deer. But a study of the scat of coyotes shows that in most states you find the most deer hair in scat when fawns are being born, in the deer season, and shortly thereafter. Coyotes do kill fawns. And they kill some adult deer in winter, especially when there is deep snow. But most of the deer hair found in scat in the deer season, and shortly thereafter, is simply the scavenging of dead deer that they find in the woods at that time.
Coyotes will eat most anything. Not only do they eat meat, but they also love fruits and berries. One study in Mississippi showed that persimmons in the fall are a major diet item for coyotes. That study suggested that when there is a good persimmon crop, predation on deer decreases.
And a number of studies showed that the overall deer numbers in an area stayed the same over a long period even though coyotes killed some fawns. There have been instances in Texas where coyotes have hurt deer populations by eating too many fawns, but this is an exception. The bottom line is that coyotes will take their share of deer, and hunters will, too.
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Dr. Dave writes a weekly column for sportsmansguide.com. Dr. Dave studied deer for 30 years as a wildlife management professor at West Virginia University. In addition he has been a bowhunter for over 40 years, with deer being his main prey. He’s also an outdoor writer and has been with “Bowhunter” magazine for 31 years.