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South Williamsport, PA
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Deer Predation – A Hot Topic

I suspect that most Pennsylvania hunters are well aware that the subject of deer and deer management can be controversial at times — especially when it comes to how many deer we have and what influences deer numbers. There are some who claim deer numbers are too low because we are killing too many does,

I suspect that most Pennsylvania hunters are well aware that the subject of deer and deer management can be controversial at times — especially when it comes to how many deer we have and what influences deer numbers. There are some who claim deer numbers are too low because we are killing too many does, and others who feel coyotes and bears are taking too many fawns thus hurting the deer population. While there may be less deer in some places like northcentral Pennsylvania, I’m not convinced that our deer herd is in any kind of trouble. The truth is I see plenty of deer; two days ago in the first three miles after I left my house, I counted over twenty deer feeding in fields within 100 yards of the road. Seeing deer, and even fawns is a daily occurrence for my wife and me in our travels into town and back.

Granted, while we may be seeing a good number of deer on a regular basis, that does not mean that predators aren’t taking some and especially fawns. Here again, hunters seem to have a lot of ideas as to what predators are responsible for killing fawns and how many they are taking. It’s obvious predation occurs, but I’m hesitant to assign blame and figures based solely on my own observations. There are some recent studies now available, however, that shed some light on what may actually be happening with fawn survival rates.

I recently read in Pennsylvania Game News magazine about a study focused on fawn survival rates; the three-year study involved 165 captured fawns and more than 200,000 trail-camera photos. This study followed up another two-year study started in 2000 to determine what role predators had in fawn depredation. According to Chris Rosenberry, who manages our deer and elk herds, “There was no evidence that predators were taking too many of our fawns in any of our 23 Wildlife Management Units.” He went on to say, “They all have stable or growing whitetail populations,” and that, “Fawn mortality is not causing deer population reductions anywhere in Pennsylvania.”

Don’t misunderstand, predators do take fawns but what I take from this is that our deer herd is not being depleted because of predation. The three principal predators that showed up in the first study also showed up in the second study. It turns out that bears, not coyotes, topped the list. In the 2015-17 study, 82 fawns were captured and fitted with radio collars, and another 83 were captured and radio-collared in a different area. There were 44 mortalities in the northern study area — humans caused six of them, and five were from natural causes. Bears killed 18 fawns, coyotes took eight, bobcats got two, and an unknown predator took five.

In the southern study area, there were 38 mortalities with humans killing five and 13 from natural causes. Predators killed 18 fawns in this area with coyotes leading the way with six, bears took five, bobcats also took five and an unknown predator got two.

It’s clear that predators lead in fawn deaths, but it’s also true that studies show that fawn survival shows little change over time even though predator numbers have increased over the past couple of decades. While I intend to shoot every coyote I can, it appears that our deer herd is stable or growing in spite of predation. Truth is, vehicles kill more deer than predators — and after watching the way people drive — I have no problem understanding why.

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