The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Outdoors

November 23, 2013

Predators as much a problem as hunters for deer

CAMERON — As the deer gun season approaches, there’s a tendency to ignore predators as a factor that limits deer populations. And after reviewing deer harvest numbers released by several state wildlife agencies, it’s no wonder.

Last year, for example, Pennsylvania hunters killed an estimated 343,110 white-tailed deer. The harvest included 133,860 antlered deer and 209,250 antlerless deer. Ohio hunters killed 218,910 deer during the 2012-13 seasons.

In West Virginia the total harvest of 131,444 white-tailed deer included 56,658 bucks, 45,169 antlerless season deer, 24,571 bow-killed deer, and 5,046 deer killed during the muzzleloader season.

Michigan sold 700,101 deer hunting licenses last year, and those hunters killed an estimated 418,000 deer. Ninety percent of those licenses were purchased by male hunters.

In addition to the toll taken by hunters, white-tailed deer must also deal with a variety of natural predators.

Predation is the most interesting mortality factor because it involves large familiar animals. Though rarely observed and difficult to quantify, predation helps keeps deer populations under control.

Where deer and wolves and/or mountain lions coexist, deer are big predators’ most important prey. Mountain lions are solitary animals, and they kill a deer every four or five days. Wolves live in social packs and require more food to feed the entire pack on a regular basis. A pack of 10 wolves kills far more deer than a pack of four.

In the northern Rocky Mountains, lynx and wolverines can be adding to list of deer predators. Elsewhere, however, others fill the vacant niche once occupied by cougars and wolves.

Coyotes are the top deer predator in the east. Some studies have shown that coyotes are responsible for up to 80 percent of fawn mortality, and small packs of coyotes chase and kill adult deer. About twice a month I hear coyotes chasing deer at night right here on the ridge.

Black bears (and grizzly bears out west) rarely fail to take fawns whenever they encounter them. It’s not worth hunting fawns because they’re small, so most bear-fawn encounters are a matter of chance. Fortunately the window of fawn vulnerability is brief, so bear predation is not significant.

In fact, most deer killed by predators are fawns, sickly or aged adults, or deer exhausted from slogging through deep snow. Only mountain lions and wolves routinely take healthy adult deer, and even they prefer the young, sick or weak. A healthy adult deer may be no match for a cougar or pack of wolves, but they don’t go down without a fight. The risk of injury, even to a big predator is real, so predators almost always choose prey that is in someway disadvantaged.

The list of other predators that can take deer in the east is short. Domestic dogs sometimes chase deer to the point of exhaustion; one study from the 1970s estimated that dogs killed 500 to 1,000 deer annually in Pennsylvania. An exhausted deer is relatively easy for a group of dogs to kill.

Bobcats can take deer in deep snow, and they sometimes attack deer on beds at night, but their total impact is minor. Fishers probably take a few fawns, but as a recently reintroduced species in some states, fishers are too few to be an important factor. And foxes are too small to be a serious predator of anything except newborn fawns. I’ve also read accounts of great horned owls, eagles and ravens taking fawns and small deer, but I suspect many of these reports are scavengers eating road-killed deer.

The white-tailed deer’s reproductive potential is its saving grace. A polygamous species where a few males can service many females and females typically have multiple twin-bearing years, deer can sustain heavy losses from predators and hunters and still maintain a stable or even growing population.

-------

On a lighter note, if you enjoy watching birds at feeders, but don’t have access to a feeding station, check out this live feeder cam in Manitouwadge, Ontario: http://www.livestream.com/feederwatchcam. You’ll probably see some northern birds you won’t recognize, so keep a field guide handy. Watch for evening grosbeaks, redpolls, siskins, and gray jays. And if you’re lucky, you might see the suet-eating ruffed grouse on a platform feeder.

— Contact Dr. Shalaway via his website (www.drshalaway.com), via e-mail at sshalaway@aol.com or at 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

1
Text Only
Outdoors
  • Some books for the rest of summer

    Stretching out in a hammock with a good book is a great way to relax on a warm summer afternoon. Here are a few titles that have recently caught my eye.

    July 27, 2014

  • Creating a week to remember

    After my traveling shoes were placed neatly beside the door, it was time to spend some much needed time around home.

    July 27, 2014

  • There are some changes on the way

    Hunters who have found themselves driving out of their way to check in a deer, turkey, or bear will no longer have to waste the time or gas starting in 2015. 

    July 27, 2014

  • The cure for the summertime blues: Go camping

    In case you haven’t noticed we are looking right down the gun barrel at winding down on another summer.

    July 26, 2014

  • 071714 Coda and Callie.jpg Coda and Callie’s excellent adventure

    How is it something that you profess to love so much can cause you so much anxiety and grief? No, I’m not talking about dealing with your children (or your spouse). This is worse. This is about dogs. More specifically, hunting dogs. 

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • 071314 Chris Ellis.jpg DNR’s ‘outdoor summer school’

    Attention all West Virginia hunters and trappers. It is once again time for outdoor summer school and the course materials are hot off the presses.

    July 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Meet the Eurasian collared-dove

    Back in 1974 a local pigeon fancier imported a flock of about 50 Eurasian collared-doves to the Bahamas. Ultimately he released the birds, and they took to living in the West Indies. By the late 1970s some had reached south Florida, and by the late 1980s, some had been seen in Georgia and Arkansas.

    July 13, 2014

  • July in W.Va.: Recreational opportunities abound

    It’s July in the West Virginia mountains, which brings vibrant orange tiger lilies, blooming rhododendron, and of course fireworks. Usually the heat and humidity is in full force, but so far the weather has been nice.

    July 13, 2014

  • Shotgun 101: Shoot more and live better

    “God is not on the side of big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best.”
    — Voltaire

    July 9, 2014

  • Fireflies are living lights

    At recent Fourth of July fireworks displays, spectators squealed with delight at the annual spectacle that illuminated the night sky. And I’m sure more than a few compared the spectacular pyrotechnics to the subtler displays of fireflies that punctuate backyards, parks, and campgrounds all summer long. We call these displays “nature’s fireworks.”

    July 5, 2014

Web Special Sections
  • Special Web Sections

    Click HERE for stories about natural gas and Marcellus shale gas extraction.

    Click HERE for stories about the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

    Click HERE for stories about the passing of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

    Click HERE for stories from The Greenbrier Classic PGA TOUR event.

    August 6, 2010

Helium debate
Helium
AP Video
Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey Raw: Obama Eats Ribs in Kansas City In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo NCAA Settles Head-injury Suit, Will Change Rules Raw: Amphibious Landing Practice in Hawaii Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA