GameKeepers Emag

Gamekeepers Winter 2015

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D eer population management was not so long ago left primarily to state and local wildlife biologists. The principal tool for managing the population was adjusting season dates and bag limits. However, these game laws oftentimes applied statewide. Today, more and more landowners are shouldering the burden of managing their own deer herd, and although they usually don't have the ability to manipulate season dates or bag limits, private land managers have a host of other tools at their disposal. To effectively manage deer on your property managers must learn to think like biologists. That means getting far more involved in the man- agement process than just avoiding shooting young bucks and harvest- ing excess does. To be the best land manager possible you need to look at your deer herd as a whole. One critical mistake that many land managers make is focusing strictly on the mature deer in the herd, specifically bucks. As any good biologist will tell you, mature male deer are only a tiny subset of your overall population. For optimal herd health, you need to evaluate the entire herd. One key indicator of herd health is fawn mortality. There are a vari- ety of factors that can alter fawn mortality, and actual mortality num- bers are difficult to discern. Helping deer survive from a fawn to a mature animal is an essential and often overlooked element of wildlife management. Here's what you need to do to protect the most vulnera- ble deer on your property. For starters, let's look at the most common causes of fawn mortality. Why Fawns Die The most obvious cause of fawn mortality is predation, and on many properties where fawn numbers have noticeably declined predators are viewed as the primary culprit. Without a doubt, predators do take a large number of fawns. Coy- otes are the usual suspects, and rightly so, Coyote populations have boomed over the past two decades and they are one of the few mammals that are as adaptable and as willing to live in proximity to humans as whitetail deer. Coyotes can cause significant declines in fawn populations, but thankfully their numbers are controllable in most areas. Coyotes are widely considered a pest species that can be shot year- round with limited control, and that's a very good thing for whitetail managers. But effective coyote control—reducing coyote numbers and maintain- ing those smaller populations is really difficult. While conducting an aerial survey in Texas over an area where coyotes had supposedly been "shot out" we saw that there were dozens of coyotes still living on that ranch - many of which were within a quarter-mile of the main residence! Effec- tive coyote control is beneficial to decreasing mortality rates in fawns, but taking the odd coy- ote every other year probably does very little to reduce populations and protect deer. A prolific plan must be put into place that includes trap- ping, hunting and habitat management. Other predators are not so easy to control. Bobcats, eagles, wolves, mountain lions, and black bears are also responsible for fawn deaths, but for a single landowner managing these preda- tors is difficult or, in the case of eagles, impossi- ble. And perhaps the most overlooked of all predators, the feral dog, exists in almost every corner of the country. In the spring, roaming dogs take a large number of fawns, and the problem is particularly bad in areas where there is a signifi- cant human population (and, correspondingly, a large population of dogs) bordering less devel- oped land where deer populations are a draw for canine predators. Predation, though, is natural (aside from feral dogs), and nature has a magnificent way of recov- ering. High predation rates mean less food for predators and, in sequence, a decline in overall 124 There are multiple causes for fawn mortality. Some, like predation, are obvi- ous. Others like abandonment and stillbirth are harder to diagnose. © Brad Fitzpatrick

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