By Mark Kenyon
The hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up, hands clenched into fists and my stomach tightened. I knew what must be causing the crashing behind me. Being November 7th, this had to be the rut-induced buck chasing frenzy I had been dreaming of. I reached for my bow, and spun around, searching for the buck and doe causing such a commotion.
When my eyes finally focused in on the flashing whites and browns that had now raced into the creek, I was hit with an unexpected wave of shock. This was no buck chasing a doe. This was a 140” mature whitetail buck, being circled and attacked by thee coyotes. They lunged, weaved in and out, poking, ripping, biting and tearing. The buck, standing his ground, spun and bucked at his attackers with every last bit of energy he had.
I had known it before, but this image seared into my mind and reinforced the message more strongly than any lecture, research study or public service announcement could. Predator populations are growing dramatically, and as stewards of the natural environment, it is our job as hunters to help control this new dynamic in ecosystems across the country.
Why Predator Hunt?
Just five minutes before I witnessed the aforementioned coyote attack, my friend had arrowed this buck several hundred yards away from where I sat. In just those few minutes, nearby coyotes had picked up the scent of the wounded deer and taken chase. While this buck was injured, he certainly had plenty of adrenaline induced energy, and I couldn’t believe the coyotes were attacking this big of a deer, still strong and kicking.
Recent studies though have shown that coyotes are attacking much more than just the occasional wounded buck. Most notably, coyotes and other predators are impacting the survival of fawns. In a recent study conducted by the USDA Forest Service and the South Carolina DNR, it was found that 73% of fawns (in the research area) died before being “recruited” into the fall population, and 64 to 84 percent of all fawn mortality from 2006 to 2008 was caused by coyotes! Many other recent studies are backing this up as well. There’s no doubt about it, predators are significantly reducing the survival rate of fawns, and it’s hurting whitetail populations across the country.
If you’ve stepped foot in any sporting good store, read a hunting blog or participated in hunting message boards online recently – you know that hunters are experiencing lower whitetail populations now than has been seen in years. And it seems that the predator impact is one part of this problem.
In another study, conducted by Cory VanGilder, of the University of Georgia, and Dr. Grant Woods, predator impact on fawn recruitment was examined by looking at data before and after intense predator removal practices. They found that after predator removal (hunting/trapping), fawn survival increased by 193 to 256 percent!
The point of me sharing all of this? To impress upon you that predators are making a significant impact on whitetail populations across the country, and that it’s our responsibility to help change that. That said, it’s time to grab a gun, and head to the woods.
Getting Out There
Predator hunting, most popularly in the form of coyote hunting, has been growing in popularity for a number of years now and for good reason. It’s a great excuse to get in the woods during the late winter, it significantly helps survival rates of prey species such as deer, and of course, it’s fun!
That said the late winter and early spring can be one of the best times to be hitting the woods for predators, as mating seasons, cold temperatures and heavy snow result in increased daylight activity. The downside to hunting in late February or March? Frigid temperatures, biting winds, and everything else that comes with the late winter elements.
This is where a Redneck Box or Haybale Blind comes in. A Redneck blind will keep you dry, protect you from the wind, and can even keep you warm, especially if you bring along a portable heater! On top of that, a Redneck Blind can significantly help keep your scent contained, which is incredibly important given the strong sense of smell that most predators such as coyotes possess.
If your blind is set up overlooking an open area and near brushy cover, set up a decoy out in front and begin calling with prey in-distress or even howler calls. Before you know it, you could have a coyote streaking towards you, and with a nice firm rest in your blind for your gun, you’ll have that wiley coyote lined up in your sights in no time.
For several nights after witnessing that coyote attack, I walked across my hunting property after dark, with coyotes howling in all directions. One part of me loved this eerie call of the wild and this symbolic pronouncement of the return of predators to our wild places. But as the yips and barks echoed off the oaks around me, I was also reminded of our responsibility as hunters, to help manage the ecosystems which we’ve now become a part of – predators included.
Predator hunting, done responsibly, can without a doubt positively benefit whitetail and other prey species populations – and it’s a job we as hunters must attend to. But on top of that, it can also be a downright good time. If you haven’t already, answer the call of the wild and try your hand at predator hunting.