Effects of Coyote Predation on Deer Hunting in South Carolina

Forest Service research informs state decisions about bag limits

Historically a species of the North American plains, coyotes now occupy much of the Southeast. Photo by Rebecca Richardson, courtesy of Wikimedia.org.
Historically a species of the North American plains, coyotes now occupy much of the Southeast. Photo by Rebecca Richardson, courtesy of Wikimedia.org.

Deer hunting is a very popular activity in South Carolina, generating about $200 million in direct retail sales annually. The 2015 Deer Hunter Survey published in late May by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) showed that the statewide harvest of deer in 2015 decreased about 4 percent from the previous year, which was partially attributed to poor hunting conditions due to heavy flooding throughout the state during the fall.

The report also noted the effects of coyote predation on deer populations in South Carolina, the findings the result of a major long-term study with U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) researchers based at the the Savannah River Site on how coyote predation affects the survival of deer fawns.

“The SCDNR hunter survey found that the 2015 harvest was 39 percent below that of 2002 due to changes in habitat and predation by coyotes,” said John Kilgo, SRS research wildlife biologist who studies coyote-deer dynamics in the Southeast. “In the last few decades, coyotes, historically a species of the North American plains, expanded their range to now occupy much of the Southeast, where they can have a significant impact on deer fawns.”

While overabundance of white-tailed deer is a problem in many areas of the U.S, deer numbers in some areas of the Southeast have declined below the level desired by wildlife managers. The purpose of Kilgo’s research is to better understand the abundance, population dynamics, and genetic structure of coyotes in South Carolina, as well as the magnitude of coyote predation on deer fawns and the potential for this predation to affect deer population size. The study prompted the state of South Carolina to implement stricter bag limits for deer as a result of the documented reductions in fawn recruitment.

“This ‘new mortality factor’ combined with extremely liberal deer harvests that have been the norm in South Carolina are clearly involved in the reduction in deer numbers in the last decade,” Charles Ruth, SCDNR Deer and Wild Turkey Program coordinator, said in the SCDNR news release. “Given this and the difficulty and high cost of coyote control, it seems apparent that making adjustments to how we manage deer, particularly female deer, is more important now than prior to the colonization of the state by coyotes.”

SRS and SCDNR and university researchers continue to study white-tailed deer population dynamics in relation to coyote predation to provide the information needed by managers in South Carolina and other states to manage deer populations and harvest.

Results of the long-term study by SRS and SCDNR published in 2012 established predation by coyotes as the leading cause of death of fawns and suggested that levels of deer harvest in South Carolina at that time were unsustainable. A second paper from that study, published in 2014, reported that efforts to control coyotes resulted in only modest improvements in fawn recruitment and may not justify the high cost of coyote control. The most recent SRS research study, which Kilgo conducted with collaborators from North Carolina State University, demonstrated that efforts to control coyotes alone may be inadequate without significant restrictions on doe harvest.

Read more about Kilgo’s research on coyote-deer interactions.

For more information, email John Kilgo at jkilgo@fs.fed.us.

Access the latest publications by SRS scientists.

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