Deer numbers downPublished 11:45am Friday, November 23, 2012
By A.J. Watson, Staff writer
Sure Shot’s deer hunting contest isn’t exactly a sure shot. Deer and hunters aren’t the problem – rather another four-legged foe.
According to Woody Baird of Sure Shot, he has only had one doe brought in since bow season began Oct. 15 and gun season on Nov. 17.
“We should have 125 people entered right now, and instead we have 50 something,” Baird said. “Saturday was the opening of gun deer season, and we had no deer brought in to be weighed.”
Baird said the problem has to do with the migration of coyotes, wolf-like animals that are native to western North America, to the Southeast and their subsequent feasting on whitetail deer populations in the area.
“Coyote predation on fawns is awful,” he said. “The studies that I have seen are that 70 percent of the fawn (deer in their first year of life) that are dropping are being predated by coyotes.”
The study Baird is referring to is by John C. Kilgo, a research biologist with the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station who presented his findings at the 35th Annual Meeting of the Southeast Deer Study Group in Sandestin, Fla. on Feb. 26, 27 and 28, 2012. During Kilgo’s study, he observed the mortality rates of 60 fawns on a Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
Of the radio-collared fawns, 73 percent (44 out of 60) died, and out of those 44 deaths coyotes killed 80 percent (35).
To combat the astonishing mortality rates, Kilgo provided a habitat for the fawning process, but saw no improvements.
However, Cory VanGilder from the University of Georgia conducted a study on the results of predator removal during the whitetail deer fawning season in northeast Alabama.
The study saw the removal of 22 coyotes and 10 bobcats from February through July 2007 on a 2000-acre study site, and the results provided an answer to the problem. The result of removing the predators nearly squashed the death rate of fawns.
Before the removal, there were approximately two does to every one fawn, but after the removal the fawn to doe ratio climbed to as high as 1.3 fawn to every one doe.
Since most coyotes food sources involve small rodents, once the fawns reach an age where they’re able fend for themselves, coyotes aren’t a problem.
According to outdooralabama.com, there were less than 2,000 deer in the state of Alabama in 1900, but more than a century of breeding and heavy restocking in the 1950s and 60s, the whitetail deer population climbed to that of half the number of residents in the state of Alabama – 1.75 million in 2000.
However, due to the migration of coyotes, deer (and hunters alike) could be facing a problem they never thought they’d have – strict control and regulated management of the coyote population.
The problem is apparently so evident that the Quality Deer Management Association’s 2010 Whitetail Deer Report acknowledged the growing relationship between coyotes and the impact they have on deer population.
“Coyotes have successfully invaded all areas of the whitetail range and they’ll be an annual variable in deer management programs,” the report said. “Whether rural or urban and North or South, coyotes are now part of the dynamic relationship between deer and the environment.”
However, conservation enforcement officer for Tallapoosa County Michael East said that he has seen regular activity as far as deer and hunters are concerned.
“From what I have seen and talked to our local processors this weekend, between two of them Saturday afternoon, they had 50 deer brought in to be processed,” East said. “The numbers on as far as why (hunters) haven’t come in and brought them to the contest, that is odd.”
Although East said it is puzzling as to why the hunters registered for Sure Shot’s contest haven’t been bringing in the bucks, he said that it could just be coincidence and bad timing.
“It’s early in the season,” he said, noting that the second weekend of deer gun season should see an increased kill rate. “A lot of people are seeing deer. As far as what I’ve seen this opening weekend, I expect this coming weekend to be a much larger weekend. The second weekend more people are off work so we actually see more hunting during that time.”
East also said that the number of hunters state wide has decreased, and that could be the reason for Baird’s low numbers.
“We know as a department statewide the number of (licensed) hunters has decreased, but there are several different factors in that,” he said. “People are busy, people have to lease land now and hunting clubs have to charge dues. When I first started 13 years ago, we estimated 7 percent of the population hunted, and now we estimate 5 percent of the population hunt, and deer hunters are a majority of that 5 percent.”
Despite the low numbers, Baird said that anyone who is willing to bring their deer down to the shop is more than welcome.
“Anybody that does kill a deer and wants their picture, come and we’ll take a snap of it and put it in the paper,” Baird said.