Steve Knight column: Mother Nature has her own way of dealing with wildlife

Published on Saturday, 23 December 2017 21:26 - Written by STEVE KNIGHT/

For those who think hunting is cruel meets Mother Nature, she is no lady in the way she treats all creatures great and small.

Tyler hunters Tony Morgan and Richard Perryman were recently at Morgan’s East Texas farm to deer hunt. Morgan dropped Perryman off at a stand to hunt doe and then proceeded to another stand, but before he got there he heard a shot.

Perryman sent a message that after Morgan had left, a doe had walked in and he shot. However, the deer ran off and when Perryman got down to look, he did not find any blood.

When Morgan got back to Perryman’s blind, he took a minute to check the scene and found a small amount of blood.

“We trailed it, but it was a thin trail. We trailed it for about 20 yards into the woods and lost it. We tried to find it for 15 or 20 minutes and I gave up,” Morgan recalled.

After a cool night, and with better light. the two returned to the area to look for the deer the next morning.

“I was looking around and I saw this huge pile of leaves, probably about half as high as my desk. There was a foot-wide clearing all around the leaves. I said, ‘Richard, come look at this’ and he said ‘there it is. There is the deer’s ear sticking out of the leaves,’” Morgan said.

Clearing the leaves away, they found the deer. Perryman’s shot hit its leg, which accounted for the lack of a blood trail.

“I figured whatever (covered it) killed it, because I couldn’t imagine a deer would die from that shot,” Morgan said.

The killing wound was most definitely what else the hunters found.

“When we uncovered it - whatever killed it - its chest was eaten out of it,” Morgan added.

They left the deer in the woods and went back to camp where everyone there guessed the culprit. Ideas ranged from the real possibilities of bobcats or coyotes, a lesser possibility like a mountain lion or joking ideas like a chupacabra or Bigfoot.

The question was answered the next day after Morgan’s son put a trail camera on the kill. It was bobcats, not one, but two. Most likely a mating pair sharing a meal.

The pictures also revealed the cats had been back and eaten the front quarters off the deer before covering it back up.

“I have a new respect for a bobcat to have killed a deer that big,” Morgan said.

Often, bobcats and coyotes are secondary targets for deer hunters along with pigs. Most hunters have seen information about the impact the two predators can have on a deer population. The problem is it is not a one size fits all situation, and most studies look at coyotes because they are more numerous and thus considered to have a bigger impact.

“In short, there have been numerous research projects conducted in the U.S. on relationships between fawn and adult deer survival and coyote predation,” said Alan Cain, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s deer program leader. “Results from those research projects vary. Some show that coyotes had minimal impact on adult/fawn survival and that coyote removal was ineffective at improving survival, but there are many that show coyote predation is significant on fawns and coyote removal can significantly improve fawn survival.”

Cain added in the southeastern states where coyote numbers are on the increase, some wildlife managers are tying a decline in deer numbers to the predators. Others experts are pointing toward the lack of quality habitat and liberal harvest regulations.

In Texas, Cain said the question of removing predators is somewhat dependent on management goals.

“Are you trying to increase your deer population/improve fawn survival? If so, coyote removal may be part of the solution,” Cain explained.

He pointed out, however, that if habitat is poor, coyote control will not help improve a population, and if habitat is good, predation is probably having little impact.

“So first and foremost, improving habitat should be the primary focus and then if populations are not responding, predator control may be necessary. As habitat improves, rats/mice and rabbits populations increase, which provides alternative prey sources for coyotes,” Cain said.

If hunters do decide to take on a predator control program, it has to be intensive and across thousands of acres to have an impact.

“Trapping on your 200 acre lease isn’t going to result in significant improvements in fawn survival/deer population. Ideally, removal would be a year-round activity, but if folk are limited on time, concentrate removal during late winter and spring, prior to the fawning season,” Cain said.

The issue then gets even trickier if a predator control program is successful. Then it is up to the hunter to become the predator to maintain deer numbers at or below carrying capacity. If not, short-term deer population gains can be lost to a lack of nutrition.

Cain said he did not know if there has been research looking at a beneficial coyote density number since most studies have attempted to reduce predator numbers to zero.

In cases of high deer numbers, the coyotes can play a role in population management.

“For properties with high deer numbers, coyotes are important to help keep the deer population in check and coyote removal would not be necessary,” Cain said.