Is Doe Management and Predator Control Important?

The Herd: Recruitment Rates

Casey Keefer

The answer is simple – yes. Proper doe management practices and predator control are very important when it comes to managing any sort of deer herd – no matter where you live. But just like anything, you have to have a plan. You can’t effectively manage does from a harvest perspective or the harvest of predators on your property without putting some proper information in context. Fluctuations in strategy vary wildly from local area to a few miles down the road – so plan upfront to save yourself some heartache down the line. Here are some tips.

1. Recruitment Rates

knowing how many animals are actually recruited into your herd on any given year is a critical step in determining many things – among them, how robust your predator population may be and how many does your current herd has in its’ makeup. Recruitment rate often gets confused by people with the number of fawns birthed – so let me be clear – it is not that! Recruitment Rate is the number of fawns on any given year that actually survive and get recruited into the herd. It will do managers absolutely no good to determine doe harvest numbers and predator control tactics based off of the numbers of total fawns they think have been born – you have to understand how many have actually survived and made it into the herd.

As of late, fawn recruitment rates have fallen off a cliff in many areas of the country for numerous reasons. In the early 2000’s we were seeing fawn recruitment rates averaging around .8 fawns per doe…as of the late 20-teens, that number had dropped to under .6 fawns per doe. Certainly there’s much at play here, like disease and habitat quality – but predator numbers, specifically coyotes, have also skyrocketed during this same time period – coincidence? I think not.

Each year a plethora of fawns fall victim to predation by coyotes – and it can feel like an uphill climb if you’re trying to combat the predator problem on your land. Hunting and trapping are great ways to try and reduce predator numbers for sure, but don’t be afraid to start looking at habitat improvements in order to help those vulnerable fawns stay hidden. To be most effective, take some time to learn how predators like a coyote actually hunt for their prey, and take steps to purposefully design your property in completely the opposite way. Every little bit makes a difference, so don’t fall into the “it’s not enough” trap.

If you’re out there harvesting does based on a wild guess, I have to tell you that you’re playing with fire. With all the effects of two major hemorrhagic disease outbreaks in the recent past still being felt, you likely could end up doing more damage to your herd than good. Get a handle on your numbers, know your recruitment rate, and set your plan from there. It’s like a puzzle, the recruitment rate can lead you to determine your predation levels – and from there you can determine your predator strategy. Base your doe harvest numbers off of that recruitment rate and balance out your herd – do it all with rock-solid intel from your specific property and location and you can achieve what you’re after.