The Effect of Coyotes on Deer Populations

What are the effects of coyotes on deer? Studies have confirmed that coyotes dramatically affect white-tailed deer populations. Coyotes prey on deer fawns; thus fawn survival naturally is threatened by a large number of coyotes. The number of fawns and thus of adult deer is directly affected by the coyote’s diet and behavior.

The researchers of a northern Alabama study included Dr. Karl Miller[1] of the University of Georgia, Cory Van-Gilder[2], graduate of the University of Georgia, and Dr. Grant Woods[3], graduate of Missouri State University, University of Georgia, and Clemson University. The study focused on 2,000 acres where 22 coyotes and 10 bobcats were removed during fawning season. The result was a doubled deer fawn population.

Are Coyotes a Threat to Deer?

An increase in coyote populations results in a decrease in their preferred prey. During the booming fur industry, the southeast had no coyote packs and a high deer density. Now deer are scarce in some high-density locations previously having 50+ deer per square mile. The U.S. Government has to kill over 90,000 coyotes yearly because of stock predation.

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Studies: Effect of Coyotes on Whitetail Deer Populations

Studies have confirmed that coyotes affect whitetail deer populations. The researchers of a northern Alabama study included Dr. Karl Miller[1] of the University of Georgia, Cory Van-Gilder[2], graduate of the University of Georgia, and Dr. Grant Woods[3], graduate of Missouri State University, University of Georgia, and Clemson University. The study focused on 2,000 acres where 22 coyotes and 10 bobcats were removed during fawning season. The result was a doubled fawn population.

Later, Miller went on to conduct a second study in Southwest Georgia on 2 sections of land.  One section of 11,000 acres, 23 coyotes and 3 bobcats were trapped and on another 7,000 acres no trapping was done. The results were staggering.  In the trapped area, 2 out of every 3 does had fawns. In contrast, in the un-trapped area only 1 out of 28 does had fawns.

Dr. John C. Kilgo[4] at the U.S. Forest Service at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina conducted one of the largest studies concerning the affects of coyotes on whitetail deer.  Sixty fawns were collared and observed. Within the first 6 weeks, 73% (44) of the fawns died.  Approximately 80% (35) were killed by coyotes, 13% (6) were killed by bobcat, and 7% (3) by unknown causes. 

Dr. Kilgo’s Research on Deer without Collars

Dr. John C. Kilgo conducted another study on the adjoining land with deer having no collars. The researchers used only trail cameras to prove that the collars didn’t slow the fawns down. The mortality rate was the same. 

Dr. Kilgo’s most recent studies disprove the theory that fawning cover will reduce the predation of fawns, finding the same results on land with less fawning cover. 

Dr. Kilgo and Christopher Shaw of the U.S. Forestry Service tested the theory of “predator swamping.” With a balanced buck-to-doe ratio, all the fawns would drop at the same time. Kilgo and Shaw conducted a test on 2 tracts of land. On the first tract the deer had a high density and on the second tract a low density. Even though the land had roughly the same amount of coyotes, the rate of predation was roughly the same.

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Effect of Coyotes on Deer: Additional Studies

In year 2005, Dr. Stephen Ditchkoff [5] of Auburn University and his students began collaring 50 fawns a year.  When starting, they scarcely had a fawn killed by coyotes, but in 2008, they lost 34% of the fawns, and in 2009, over half. 

Mark Buxton[6], a wildlife manager with Southeastern Wildlife Habitat Services in Thomaston Alabama, says at the QDMA’s annual convention in Louisville Kentucky “…food plots, timber stand improvements, and restoring native vegetation… can maximize their (the deer) potential.  The coyote is the next big part of that equation.”  Buxton says “if coyotes are not a problem on your hunting property they will be in a few years.” 

Coyotes Target Fawns

Some would say the fawns were just at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Buxton believes this is not the case.  He trapped predators in 2009 during 3 months of spring and caught 20 coyotes and 15 bobcats from 1500 acres, beginning about a month before fawning begins.  After 1 year, Buxton had caught 49 coyotes and continued into the 2010 fawning season trapping 14 more.  In total, 54% of the coyotes trapped were caught during fawning season (34 of 63). 

“That tells me when coyotes are targeting fawns,” Buxton states, “when fawns hit the ground, it’s game on for coyotes.”

Ditchkoff agrees, saying, “coyotes might have learned to identify doe behaviors that indicate fawns are nearby. That’s not unheard of.  In Alaska, they’ve documented that when a cow moose acts in a way that indicates a calf is nearby, brown bears start a systematic search to find the calf. They just hammer moose calves.”


A Sharp Decline in Deer Population

During the late 1980s coyotes advanced into South Carolina, and by year 2006, the deer population had declined by 36%.  Is this decline merely by chance, or is it the direct effect of coyotes preying on fawns and adult deer? 

An in-depth study on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula indicated coyotes kill more grown deer and fawns than wolves, bears, or bobcat. For 3 consecutive years coyotes caught and killed more adult deer leaving their competition in the dust. Coyotes killed 7 deer, whereas wolves killed 3. Bears and bobcat trailed behind with 1 each. Coyotes were also the apex killing predator fawns with 22. Bobcats killed 12 and bears and wolves tied at 4.


In yet another study, Sarah Saalfeld[7], a student of Auburn University, under the direction of Dr. Stephen Dithckoff, found coyotes impacted deer in an urban environment the same as in the wild, contradictory to the expectation that cars would be the highest cause of mortality.  Coyotes killed 67% of the fawns in an urban environment just as in rural environments.

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It appears coyotes negatively influence deer populations.  The elimination of coyotes has even doubled the survival of fawns in some cases. The removal of predators, especially coyotes, can significantly increase the deer population.

If deer in an area are scarce due to coyotes, hunters can help keep these fawn slayers in check. Trap and hunt them to help bring back a thriving deer herd, but be sure to check your states laws before you go out!

Hampton Harris

[1]Miller, Karl. The Coyote Factor – Taking a Bite Out of Deer

[2] Van-Gilder, Cory. The Coyote Factor – Taking a Bite Out of Deer

[3] Woods, Grant. The Coyote Factor – Taking a Bite Out of Deer

[4] Kilgo, John C. The Coyote Factor – Taking a Bite Out of Deer

[5] Ditchkoff, Stephen. How Coyotes Affect Deer Herds

[6] Buxton, Mark How Coyotes Affect Deer Herds

[7] Saafeld, Sarah The Coyote Factor – Taking a Bite Out of Deer

Mulligan, Don. Study Shows Coyotes Impacting Deer Populations 

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    1. Didn’t get my turkey this spring turkey season, but I did take out a pregnant female coyote on the last day of the season.

  1. Things from the study omitted here:

    Trapping coyotes is another more intensive option but can be expensive and must be done correctly to be effective. If you trap, it must be conducted immediately prior to and during the fawning season, or other coyotes will quickly repopulate the area. Opportunistic harvest of coyotes (i.e. shooting every one you see while deer hunting) will typically have little or no effect. In some cases it may even worsen the problem by temporarily reducing competition for resources, which can increase coyote pup survival.


    Until we have more southeastern coyote/deer research under our belt, those are the management options we have to work with. Regardless of the methods you choose, I highly recommend consulting a wildlife biologist to help you efficiently meet your management goals. I’ve worked with numerous hunt clubs that believed that coyotes were decimating the local deer population only to find out that their harvest rates far exceeded what the herd could handle. Deer hunting and management are evolving rapidly, and relentless research is the only way to keep up.

  2. Charles May says:

    When I was growing up it wasn’t anything to see 10 to 20 DEER around my Grandpa’s land then I kill my FRIST Coyote in 1989 I didn’t even know they were around middle GEORGIA then people kept saying the Game Wardens were bringing them in Lord I didn’t even know the y that they were moving in to Ga. Now back here in the Country where I live I can hear droves of them howling at night I TRULY GOING TO START BUYING UP TRAPS TO TRY TO GET THEM THING UNDER CONTROL CAUSE WE DEPEND ON THE DEER TO HELP US SUPPLEMENT OUR FOOD SORCE HERE ! GODBLESS YOU ALL FOR YOUR STUDY PLEASE GET THIS INFORMATION OUT TO LET EVERYONE KNOW JUST HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO GET THE COYOTE UNDER CONTROL

    1. Stacy Harris says:

      Thanks for your comment. Isn’t that the truth. We do need deer to supplement our food. Of course I am prejudice. I think it is the best food in the world!

    2. Sal Sorace says:

      I think the game commission should respond to all of us with what they intend to do,to help us deal with this problem.

  3. First of all, I am a deer hunter and enjoy seeing coyotes. They are an awesome animal to say the least. As I see it, there is no crime in hunger. Just look at coyote predation like a wildlife tax. But most of you pigs can’t see past your #$#%#$ to give a damn about anything but your own selfish, pathetic interests. I could go on and on….The same mentality that basically destroyed this country’s wildlife heritage.

    1. Cameron Moore says:

      you don’t no what you are talking about brian miller you just want a reason to b#$$# about every thing it is a problem the coyotes in America so get it together it is just there opinion.

    2. Dear Brian,

      You started off perfectly balanced. However, you quickly slid into nonsensical babbling. I love coyotes because they balance the deer heard. I have had trail cameras out for 10 years in two different states. (Oklahoma and Missouri)

      If the coyotes kill and eat that big buck on my trail camera I have to get over it. I can go buy a chicken and eat it, a coyote must hunt for a living. Seemingly sadly its the fawns who are eaten, we all know it’s just nature. But, we all like fast food once in a while don’t we? If the deer numbers are thin the coyote numbers will balance naturally.

      One more quick point about field dressing deer. Why do we leave that much free food in the woods. I have put game cameras on my gut piles. The coyotes are shy for a while, but soon take advantage of the free food. They don’t have to expend any calories to catch a 5 pound energy packed liver. All of nature is basically a math problem. They receive free energy and as you know wild animals waste next to nothing. We actually help coyotes through a cold winter with a belly full of organ meat.

      My recommendation: Don’t leave anything in the woods but a blood trail. Pack all of the animal out. I know it’s a pain in the rear, but, it does not give the coyotes a free meal to boost their energy in a time that they should be balancing their numbers. (just a thought?) I know some of you reading this also practice this same tactic.

      I love it when the coyotes eat the neighborhood cats. Nothing against cats it’s that they insist on urinating on everything I own. I know, I know it’s just nature. But, domesticated animals are not part of nature. They are man made. They don’t belong.

    3. Thanks for being a voice of reason. I can’t believe the number of know-nothings attempting to justify the creation of a serious wildlife imbalance. Hasn’t history taught them anything? Do they begrudge every predator species a meal? Sure is some old-times attitudes here.

    4. So true. A healthy coyote population keeps those pesky deer out of the fields and garden. Deer that are shy are better for the crops. I’m rooting for a good balance of deer to coyotes.

  4. I’m not an expert or anything, but since whitetails co-evolved with red wolves, surely they’ll be able to handle this influx of a similar predator. Unfortunately this probably means people who really need venison are going to have a hard time in the near future. From what I’ve read, killing coyotes is more or less a waste of time (if you’re trying to control their population, obviously some people probably like hunting them for sport or other perfectly valid reasons) since there’s an insane abundance of food (which is a good thing) and they can have so many babies in a good year. We have open seasons on coyotes and wild hogs in NC and both populations continue to rise.

  5. Coyotes are a huge problem in Montana. The deer population is going done and i have barely seen any fawns this year. Coyotes need to be stopped; hunters need to pick up there game and tree hugger need to back off.

  6. Edward Heisel says:

    Have we learned nothing in the past 150 years? Nature requires predators to create some sort of balance. Killing coyotes is senseless slaughter that does harm to the environment. Plus, they’re really cool animals to watch and listen to.

  7. Wow, it’s impressive to know that the absence of coyotes can potentially double the population of deer. I might try to get a coyote control service for my rural property soon because I’d like to start raising some deer and let them roam around the surrounding woods. With predators around, that would be quite impossible to do.

  8. Rattlerjake says:

    Edward Heisel – It is untrue that nature requires predators to create balance! Nature creates imbalances all the time. Killing coyotes is not senseless slaughter that does harm to the environment because the way nature works is that certain predators, in areas where prey species are plentiful, often increase their population over the carrying capacity, and they over predate the prey species often to the point of extermination. When this happens, either the predators start dying from starvation or they begin predation on other non-species, including those that do not have sustainable populations which then causes their extermination, then the predators die off from starvation. Those prey species often take many years to repopulate the area and the other species that were eliminated may or may not – these are called cycles, and happen over several year span. (Example: In years that the snowshoe hare/rabbit are plentiful, usually because the lynx/bobcat populations have declined, the lynx/bobcat population increases due to the increase in available prey species and more kittens survive. But as soon as the “cat” population is high enough to significantly reduce the rabbits, the cats starve out.)

    MAN is a predator, a predator that has the ability to maintain animal populations a optimum carrying capacity by regulating the numbers of predators and prey species, and preventing the decimation of both. Also when man does this, these animals are not wasted through starvation, they are harvested for food and/or their pelts. The only problem with this is the fools that insist on protecting every animal on earth, which then leads to the imbalances as mentioned before.

    In North America there was once a population of bison that numbered in the millions. That population allowed for huge numbers of predators. But as is seen in other continent’s herd animals, when the predation becomes too high, those herds migrate out of the area and the predators starve, or if the predator numbers were not high enough there would be huge die-offs of the bison because they over grazed the land. This we never experienced because the American aboriginal (from Asia) hunted the migrating herds, just as the other predators do.

    Man has been an integral part of nature’s “balance” since the beginning of time!

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