John's Journal...

Coyotes: Helpful Predators or Deer Killers

To Shoot or Not to Shoot Coyotes

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note:  If you believe, as I once have, that you need to shoot coyotes because they kill deer, then logically you can reason that the more coyotes you take, the more deer you save. However, today I’ll share what I’ve learned over the years that no wildlife problem usually has a simple solution.

A few studies have shown that automobiles kill more deer each year than coyotes do, and that coyotes have a very-limited impact on a deer herd. But as a friend of mine told me, "Yeah, but every time I find a dead deer in the woods, there's usually coyote tracks around it, or you can see where coyotes have been feeding on that dead deer."  Like you, I've shot a deer late in the afternoon and found coyotes already eating the animal before I can recover it. The deer that hunters don't recover, the coyotes do. I've actually seen coyotes run toward gunshots during hunting season because they've learned that a shot means there's a meal available that's either dead or possibly about to die.

In Pennsylvania, Justin Breeland, the past assistant chief of Pennsylvania's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Department, says that black bears kill as many if not more deer than coyotes do iClick to enlargen his state. For 16 months, Breeland conducted a commission-funded game-research program and came to this conclusion.However, in Maine, a state study concluded that coyotes killed almost as many deer as the hunters did in 1995. Too, if we decide to wipe out all the coyotes on a property, we must consider the backlash effect. A study in west Texas reported a dramatic change in the number of small-animal diversity after the removal of coyotes off the study area, where originally about 12 species of rodents lived. After the coyote removal, only one species of rodents remained, but the number of jackrabbits, skunks, rabbits, badgers, bobcats and raccoons increased dramatically.

Because the coyote feeds on dead or wounded deer that hunters often leave, we know coyotes can trail and locate a wounded deer efficiently, often before the hunter ever does. Sometimes hunters have the misguided notion that coyotes have killed all the deer found dead in the woods or on the sides of roads. However, deer predators also include wild dogs, coy dogs and possibly wolves. A domestic dog that's bred with a coyote, the coy dog takes on many of the same traits of the coyote. Both coy dogs and wild dogs will run in packs and kill and eat deer. Although outdoorsmen may tell you they can tell the difference between a coyote, a wolf, a coy dog and a feral dog, truthfully, no one can know for sure the species of a dog-like animal Click to enlargethat comes to a predator call, unless a wildlife scientist measures the animal's skull and examines the animal. The size, the color of the fur and the look of a coyote varies widely.

About three decades ago when I did taxidermy as I was getting started with my outdoor-writing career, I had a hunter bring what he was convinced was a red wolf to my taxidermy shop. Although I knew no one had reported finding a red wolf in Alabama for more than 20 years at that time (50-years ago today), this animal visually met all the physical characteristics of a red wolf. Everyone who saw the animal felt that I had in my shop possibly the last remaining red wolf in the entire State of Alabama. I skinned the wolf out and sent its skull to the Smithsonian Institute for verification. I also forwarded to the Smithsonian photographs and measurements I'd made. However, the report I got back stated without question that this animal was a red-color-phase coyote. In another instance, I had a coyote-looking animal brought into my taxidermy shop that a deer hunter had harvested as the animal fed on a freshly-killed deer. Once I sent this animal's skull off to the authorities, I received a report back that this animal was a wild German shepherd-mixed dog.

From the hands-on research I've collected, I've learned that to know for sure that you've sClick to enlargehot a coyote and not a dog, you must have the animal analyzed by professionals. In our state, dog owners release numbers of dogs into the wild each year to keep from having to care for these dogs. These wild dogs either will starve to death or must revert back to their hunter instincts and learn to kill and eat wildlife. When you find a deer killed in the woods, how can you tell whether a feral dog, a coy dog or a coyote has killed that deer?  I have no training as an animal-forensic scientist, but the research I've uncovered tends to indicate that coyotes prefer to grab the throat of the deer and try and kill the deer by biting and slashing its throat. Dogs traveling in packs seem to attack more like wolves by taking the deer down by the hindquarters and biting the deer's hind legs and not by attacking their throats. Too, the coyote tends to eat a deer's internal organs first and then the other parts of the deer. Dogs don't usually demonstrate that same type of behavior.

Should we actively hunt and shoot coyotes?  By shooting coyotes, do we positively or negatively impact our deer herds and the rest of the environment?  Hunters can bag coyotes for sport without severely impacting the coyote population. They also can take coyotes from farms and ranches to keep the coyotes from feeding on livestock. However, by eradicating these natural predators, you won't necessarily improve your deer herd, because often limiting factors other than coyotes may affect the health and the growth of a deer herd more dramatically.

Don't ever underestimate the intelligence of coyotes. If people hunt a coyote population intensively, the coyotes simply will pack their bags and leave before they all get eliminated. They've learned to adapt well to the ways of the hunter and may become more elusive than a big buck. Coyotes have learned that in suburbia where they're not hunted and humans pose no threat to them, they can move into woodlots, fenced roads, ditches, rights of way and even flower beds and dodge human contact, yet remain close to their food sources, which sometimes include deer that also live in these same places.

Tomorrow: How Coyotes Have Affected Deer Herds in Different States

Check back each day this week for more about "Coyotes: Helpful Predators or Deer Killers"

Day 1: A Deer Hunt Ruined
Day 2: Why Coyotes Spread Across the U.S.
Day 3: To Shoot or Not to Shoot Coyotes
Day 4: How Coyotes Have Affected Deer Herds in Different States
Day 5:More on How Coyotes Have Affected Deer Herds in Different States


Entry 457, Day 3