It’s hard for whitetail hunters to get excited about deer during late spring. If anything, most of them are out chasing longbeards. The closest they probably come to thinking about deer is when they plant their spring food plots. But late spring is when a potential “Booner” could be making its appearance in the form of a newborn fawn. But as this year’s fawns hit the ground, it’s important to consider the factors that will contribute to their well-being during the most vulnerable time of their lives. Here are three important factors that can greatly affect the survival of those newcomers.
Factor No. 1 — Fawning Cover
Even as the woods green up after a long, bleak winter, lack of adequate cover is likely to be the No. 1 reason why fawns will not make it. Managing the habitat to ensure adequate fawning cover is extremely critical to their survival. No matter where you hang your hunting cap, predators can have a giant impact on fawn survival — most of it occurring during the first week or two of a fawn’s life. Through sustainable cutting and prescribed burning, rejuvenated habitat in the fawning area can protect them from the watchful eyes of coyotes, bears, wolves and other predators.
Factor No. 2 — Quality Food
The lack of high-quality food can also be a limiting factor in fawning success. After a long winter and pregnancy, does need high-quality food after their fawns are born in order to produce milk. When properties are not managed properly and food quality is low, does often fail to produce adequate milk for their fawns and either are unable to support multiple fawns, or abandon the young all together in order to survive.
According to an article by John Ozoga, from a management standpoint, certain measures can be taken to minimize fawn loss. For example, on Northern range, early green-up plant species should be encouraged, as should drought-resistent plants on Southern range. In either case, controlling deer density is important so that the abundance of preferred plant species is not reduced, or possibly even eliminated, due to overgrazing.
Factor No. 3 — Predators
Though tied into the first factor, predators are a major cause of fawn mortality, and sometimes even in the best habitat fawns succumb to predation. For this reason, predator control is extremely important.
Although hunting predators can be entertaining, its typically not very effective at removing significant numbers. Trapping is the most efficient way to control predators such as coyotes and bobcats. In the case of bears and wolves, hunting might be the only viable option. Regardless, this is something that must be addressed in order to maintain an appropriate recruitment rate. You won’t protect every fawn, but can make a valiant effort to make sure recruitment is in check with the overall deer population and habitat.
According to another article by John Ozoga, in a 2005 interview with Quality Whitetails Editor Lindsay Thomas, Leopold warned that killing coyotes to increase newborn fawn survival “is a fight you may not want to get into.” In fact, he contends sometimes it might do more harm than good because disruption of the coyote’s strict dominance hierarchy might actually increase coyote predation of fawns.
“If you hit that [coyote] population, it has the ability to respond very quickly to reduced numbers, and a female may crank out that maximum of 10 to 12 pups in a litter instead of two or three,” Leopold reported. “You can worsen the problem. Now you’ve shifted your population from a few old animals that are regulating themselves, potentially killing each other to maintain dominance, to a population of young, inexperienced animals in greater numbers who may have a greater impact on your deer population. So there’s a proper balance between deer and coyotes that regulates itself. You can easily get an overpopulated deer herd, but it’s difficult to get overpopulated coyotes because they don’t mind killing each other.”
It’s not that trapping and shooting coyotes can’t effectively lower predator numbers and improve fawn survival rates, says John Ozoga. It can, at least in the short term. And habituated fawn-killing coyotes probably should be eliminated. But coyote removal must be intense and the effort must be continued to be effective in the long-term.
Plain and simple: Without viable fawn recruitment you won’t have as many future bucks to hunt. By managing the habitat for better cover and food — and controlling predators via any legal methods — fawns can thrive and build a bright future for your deer herd.
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