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Whitetails and the Ole Coyote

Tommy KirklandText & Photos by Tommy Kirkland

-- Today we are hearing about and experiencing more and more predator impact upon white-tailed deer. Although bobcats and bears seek venison to satisfy their carnivorous nature, it's the ole coyote that has been getting the attention lately. 

Photo: Stand offs between rutting bucks and lone coyotes are beginning to occur more frequently because white-tailed deer are adapting to predator pressure and utilizing the instinct of fight as an alternative to fleeing. Coyotes are not effective in bringing down adult whitetails unless the deer are sick or injured.

The stands of timber, intermixed with deadfall, are quiet. Suddenly the morning's tranquility is disrupted by a snort and the cracking of dried foliage as two adult white-tailed does dodge the forest debris with swiftness and ease. Maneuvering through the wooded labyrinth, the females vanish.
Moments later, a lone coyote trots by. Somewhat disoriented, the canine was either in a hopeless pursuit of the female deer or just wandering through when the whitetails sounded the alarm.
Each year, stories circulate and sightings occur as canines, such as coyotes, either scavenge or display predatory attacks upon adult deer and infant fawns. At times, we begin to speculate if these animals are influencing deer and deer hunting.

Tommy KirklandPhoto: Some coyotes will run whitetails to such an extent that they may rest in open fields.
Research is now underway to determine the coyotes' impact upon whitetail offspring. Although this venture is still in its fancy, preliminary results are indicating that coyotes, along with bobcats and black bears, contribute to a 20- to 40-percent mortality rate on newborn whitetails. Of course, estimates like these will vary from year to year and region to region.

The habitat, its nutritional quality, and vegetative cover along with the number of whitetails per square mile also play roles in predator success. Simply put, better nutrition combined with available camouflage creates an ideal habitat for fawn survival.

Fawns can be highly vulnerable and easy prey once coyotes learn the locales of traditional fawn birthing sites. If fawns bleat periodically, it will not take long for the canines to detect the distress cries. Within time, the coyotes learn to explore areas where they have obtained an easy meal in the past.

As for adult deer, the predator scenarios are quite different. Even though there is widespread controversy regarding the coyote's effectiveness of predation on adult deer; for the most part, the coyote is only successful in bringing down sick, injured, malnourished and older deer. Only on very rare occasions are they able to effectively prey upon and attack healthy whitetails.

Tommy KirklandPhoto: Doe Protecting its Offspring: Female deer, especially those with fawns, can be quick to aggressively confront a curious coyote - not only kick swatting with its front hooves, but also running the coyote off by chasing it. However, the majority of parenting female deer use the flight instinct in an effort to draw predators away from their bedded fawns that are concealed amid the foliage.

There are always exceptions to the general rule of wildlife behaviors as many outdoorsmen can attest. Coyotes have responded to hunters rattling whitetails. This clearly shows that a handful of them learn that dueling bucks are vulnerable during fights as well as being subject to bloody injuries. Unless a serious buck injury occurs, the coyotes are most likely not going to attempt an outright attack on enraged, rutting bucks.
Observations afield do show that coyotes can cause whitetails to shift their normal feeding routines - especially in open fields and plots. Their presence can cause deer to feed at unpredictable times. Depending on the number of coyotes per square mile, some coyotes may vainly run the whitetails periodically during the night. If adequate cover such as underbrush, deadfall, and high grasses are available, deer will utilize the cover to avoid the coyotes.
By the time you enter the blind or stand in the morning, the whitetails are nowhere to be seen - due to the canines running off the deer herds. Of course, the coyotes are looking for easy prey and the chases do not last long. Even so, this type of activity can cause whitetails to become more evasive. Also, the coyotes typically do not operate in packs like wolves, though there are exceptions. A single coyote is not going to last long with a swift whitetail; therefore, the canine becomes more of a scavenger.
On the other side of coyotes pursuing whitetails, there are also many accounts of deer running off coyotes. Female deer can be highly protective of their infant offspring. Instead of drawing the predator away from the bedding fawn, female deer have actually charged and kick swatted at intruding coyotes with their front hooves.
There are also incidents where bucks will confront curious coyotes as well. With their racks pointed down, bucks charge the canines. Bottom line, whitetails possess two inherent characteristics to deal with predators - the evasive mechanism of flight or aggressive confrontation of fight.
Despite coyote impact, the whitetails adapt and survive - thriving with their newborn offspring - the next installment at

-- Tommy Kirkland

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By Bonedog @ Thursday, May 01, 2008 3:22 PM

I believe the predatation by the coyote here in Maine is highest during the winter months when heavy snows cover the ground. A while ago I read that the estimated population of Coyotes in Maine was about 16,000 with each taking an average of two whitetails for a total of 32,000 deer annually out of a total deer population estimated at 250,000 or less. Hunters register about 30,000 deer annually.

The Coyote is relatively recent in Maine with the major population growth since the mid 1960's.

The hunting season for the Coyote is all year and for three months it can also be hunted at night. The most effective method of controlling the coyote population has been through the use of snares near deer wintering areas. That has been stopped around 5 yeras ago because of the possibility of an incidental catch of Lynx - an endangered species. Sportsmen's groups are trying to have the ban rescinded.

I am looking forward to the remainder of the articles on the Coyote as scavenger AND efficient killer of deer slowed and starved by heavy winter snows.

By Tommy Kirkland @ Thursday, May 01, 2008 8:01 PM
Dear Richard, You are correct about coyotes being effective predators with snow and ice, etc. My original article did mention this and made a comparison to southern coyotes having more vegetative food sources in the winter, thereby minimizing their need to prey on whitetails. Thank you for the additional information regarding Maine's situation with coyotes. Tommy

By hamela @ Tuesday, May 06, 2008 2:18 PM
I have a couple of stories about coyotes and deer. I live and hunt in Alberta.
A few years ago at dawn in the fall, while working on a service rig (in the Oil patch), I spotted a large doe walking slowly across a pasture. I noticed that her hind quarter was all bloody red, obviously the victim of a poor shot. She would walk a short distance with difficulty and stop, and then start again. Then I noticed a large coyote following her about 100 yards behind. Whenever the deer stopped, it would just lie down and wait, then follow when she started walking again. Obviously, he was just waiting for an opportunity for an easy meal.

My second story happened in southern Alberta, again in the fall while bow hunting. I was stalking along a fence line across the middle of a section of farmland when I spotted a herd of 6 mule deer does in the middle of the field about a quarter mile away. They were all milling around. Then I noticed 2 coyotes circling the herd. One coyote would try to sneak in on one of the smaller does. The lead doe would immediately chase him away. As soon as she took up the chase, the other would immediately attempt to get to one of the other does. The lead doe would then turn around to chase the second coyote while the first one came back again. This went on back and forth for a good 15 to 20 minutes. Finally, the lead doe had enough of this, took the whole herd with her and ran to the next field about a half mile away. The two coyotes merely followed behind the deer at a leisurely trot and started all over again with the same tactic when they stopped. Pretty sophisticated for a dumb coyote, I say!

As a point of interest, many land owners around here are acreage owners, not farmers. The majority of these people think deer are “cute” and regard them as pets. Their views of hunting are not very realistic. They have no idea how many deer succumb to harsh winter conditions, or the horror of a coyote taking down a deer. Coyotes typically do not kill a deer immediately. They merely disable the deer by tiring the animal until it can’t fight back, biting the hind legs to immobilize it, and start eating from the back end while it is still alive. The “Cycle of Life” continues. Nature is cruel but fair. Even coyotes deserve to eat. I am always amazed at the resiliency of animals in our wonderful wilderness.

Thanks for your article.


By Tommy Kirkland @ Monday, May 12, 2008 3:53 PM
Dear Andre, Thanks for posting your experiences with coyotes. The information validates what I've experienced with coyotes and attacks from the rear. They don't always go for the neck area first. Also, I didn't mention it in the article, but some coyotes may have been imbreeding with red wolves here in the south; thereby increasing their abilities to be more predatory, yet this is still speculative. Tommy

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