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Coyote control strategy requires goal assessment

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Coyotes (Canis latrans) have long been considered a nuisance for livestock producers and white-tailed deer managers in Texas and Oklahoma. Shooting, trapping, snaring, poisoning and everything in between have been used to reduce coyote populations to comfortable levels. What is a comfortable level? Are historical management practices dictating what level of predator control we conduct on our property?

Coyotes are extremely intelligent animals with keen senses of hearing, sight and smell. They weigh an average of 25 to 40 pounds, and their coat color can include greys, reds and browns. They are primarily nocturnal and very opportunistic, feeding on rabbits, rodents, ground-nesting birds and insects. Coyotes also eat carrion, lizards, snakes, fruits, white-tailed deer and feral hogs. Coyotes breed from January through March, with a gestation period of about 63 days and an average litter size of six pups. The coyote's adaptability allows them to change diets throughout the year to match availability of different prey species as well as utilize a variety of different habitats. The coyote's range is extensive across the United States. They can be found throughout Oklahoma and Texas.

In the spring, coyotes can shift their diets to be more venison-heavy in response to fawning. Removing predators can reduce fawn mortality and should be done in areas of declining deer population. However, many deer managers implement control techniques to reduce coyote populations at this time without considering overall deer herd health. The knee-jerk reaction is to control predators when they are eating what you're managing. However, other techniques can be used to cope with predators without undertaking an intensive predator removal campaign.

First, consider managing habitat. This is often the easiest and most effective practice to implement. Ensuring there is adequate fawning cover will protect many of the fawns. Fawning cover is typically moderate to tall grasses but can occasionally be low-growing brush. Good fawning cover reduces the impact predators can have on a fawn crop.

Second, consider the deer herd. Many deer hunters and managers across Texas and Oklahoma are applying for management permits through their state wildlife departments to harvest more deer. If we truly have an increasing number of deer, maybe we should allow the coyotes to help us manage the population.

If the deer herd has a balanced age structure and sex ratio, then predator swamping occurs. Predator swamping is when all of the fawns are born at the same time, providing only a short period of time for the predators to consume them. Coyotes can only consume so many fawns at once, allowing other deer to reach the age and strength that makes them more capable of escape.

Are coyotes friend or foe? I'd say that depends on your situation. Outline the goals for your property, and take steps to help you best reach them. You may find that coyotes can be an asset on your property.

Josh Gaskamp serves as the technical consultation manager and a wildlife and range consultant at Noble Research Institute. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in wildlife and fisheries sciences from Texas A&M University. He joined Noble Research Institute in 2007 after working as a hunting guide and gun-dog trainer on the King Ranch. Gaskamp's research on drop-nets as a potential tool for feral hog control led him to develop the BoarBuster™ suspended corral trap. His areas of interest include habitat management for wildlife, prescribed fire, and feral hog impacts.