Deer management is a simple concept, right?
You gauge deer population numbers and reproduction figures, and then use those growth calculations in order to decide deer hunting quotas and limits. What could be easier?
Except that hunters aren’t the only force that is killing deer. We’re not talking about car accidents, though a small number of deer are certainly killed by automobiles each year.
No, instead, we are considering fawn mortality, which is rarely taken into account when wildlife management experts are determining hunting limits, but which plays a huge role in determining the true size of a deer population. Fawn mortality also directly impacts a hunter’s ability to harvest deer from the same property year after year, meaning that, if you are interested in hunting in the same general spot for the next few years, you have a vested interest in making sure as many fawns make it to maturity as possible.
Of course, completely preventing fawn mortality is impossible. Any given deer herd may suffer between 10 percent and 90 percent loss of its newborns in any given years, with a plethora of different factors at play that contribute to those losses. From predators to starvation and malnutrition, from accidents to diseases or birth defects, fawn populations are incredibly vulnerable, and invariably, more fawns are born each spring than can live to maturity in the following years. It’s a classic survival of the fittest situation, and there’s only so much you can do to mess with such evolutionary principles.
However, the more fawns that die on your property in a year, the fewer deer your property will have to offer in the following years. Who knows, one of the fawns that loses its life to a predator as a newborn could have turned into an ultimate trophy buck a few years down the line. Needless to say, you don’t want to lose a chance to kill that potential trophy buck just because a coyote got there first when the deer was young.
So how can you support the fawn populations on your property to make sure you have burgeoning deer populations to target, year after year? There are differing thoughts on the answer to that question, and they are all compelling methods to consider. The first – and the most obvious – is predator control. It figures that, if coyotes, bobcats, and other predators are taking down your fawns, the best way to fix the problem is to get out into the field early and kill as many of those predators as you can. Unfortunately, there are contrasting thoughts on whether or not this process actually works, since predator populations under attack will often ramp up reproduction in order to compensate for the animals you are killing. In other words, this solution could make the problem better and it could make it worse.
Another theory for keeping fawns alive is to simply cull the older parts of the herd regularly and evenly. An overpopulated deer property means that there isn’t enough food to go around, and the members of the herd that generally lose their place at the table as a result are the fawns. By trimming the population liberally during hunting season – and by targeting both bucks and does – you can keep the herd in better balance and make sure there is enough food to go around. The other solution is to simply make sure there are plentiful food sources on your property and to try to situate them close to well-covered bedding areas. Greater quantities of food and easier commutes from sleeping spots to feeding spots are factors that will greatly aid the health of the herd in general, which will trickle down to your fawns.