From 2004 to 2011 the deer density on our farm was relatively stable.
Shooting fewer adult does should have allowed our deer herd to grow, but something else was at play, something else was forcing us to shoot fewer does to keep the deer herd form further decline, something else was taking away our fun, and that something else was a growing predator population.
However, just like deer, beavers and every other wildlife species, their [predator] numbers and impacts need to be managed.
If we shot as many adult does today as we did 5 to 10 years ago, we would drive the deer herd to a very low density. It’s easy to simply blame predators for this, and many hunters do. However, I have the data to support this claim.
This data suggest that a decade ago we recruited 1½ fawns for every 2 does – not 2 fawns per doe as many hunters assume. That was a good recruitment rate, and it nearly mirrored the national average at the time. Five years ago we also recruited 1½ fawns for every 2 does, so things were still good. However, today we recruit just over 1 fawn for every 2 does. I don’t know how many fawns hit the ground in the spring on our farm, but I can assure you it is way more than 1 fawn for every 2 does.
Given that we significantly reduced the deer herd and balanced it with our habitat a decade ago, an additional decline of this magnitude is a big deal, and it translates to greatly reduced deer observation rates while hunting.
This is not a result of a small sample size. We have thousands of hours of observation data over the past 12 years…
So the data suggests that far fewer fawns are surviving today.
Except our increasing body weights by age class suggest increasing health, we have good habitat and good fawning cover, and we’ve had no disease outbreaks.
I don’t know how many coyotes are in our area although we hear, photograph, and see their sign regularly. Conversely, I do have some measure of the bears in our area, and it is a lot. During the 2012 archery season I actually had more bears than does in bow range.
Unfortunately you cannot shoot bears during PA’s archery season. A quick post-season survey showed ours and five neighboring camps killed a total of 19 bears! Tioga county… harvest rate averaged one bear per 132 acres! Not surprisingly those same camps that shot 19 bears only shot 17 bucks.
I know that we recruit fewer fawns today than in past years. I also know we have high predator numbers that are impacting fawn survival… we shoot as many bears as possible. I wish we could shoot bears during archery season, and I wish we could trap coyote in the spring.
Wherever you live or hunt, I strongly encourage you to monitor the deer herd as much as possible… It’s also helpful to share that information with your state or wildlife agency.