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Becoming a Complete Whitetail Deer Manager

With the advent of QDM being introduced to the hunters of Pennsylvania in the early 2000’s, we were about to change the way we manage our deer herd, our land and ourselves. For too long did the landscape and herd endure such calamity with mis-management, allowing for a multitude of negative consequences to occur: 1) improper buck to doe ratio, 2) poor forest regeneration due to high carrying capacities, 3) malnourished deer, 4) smaller bucks, 5) an extended rut that would put additional stress on these bucks, resulting in late born fawns and so forth. Within the last 15 years, due to various changes and a different mindset, the hunting experience and other attributes have improved dramatically. We witnessed older, healthier and larger bucks in the herd, increased body weights, greater fawn recruitment and what seemed, a healthier forest. Everything is a positive. During 2015, from a manager perspective, I have noticed several traits that may have risen the alarm that we have become too complacent and have ignored a vital component in this process and that would be, PREDATORS. Yes, as the vast majority of hunters have concentrated our efforts on mainly managing our deer and forest, we have to be concerned that Coyotes are also pursuing the same deer, on the same grounds, as we are. By acknowledging the fact that we have seen their numbers increase dramatically, by the mere sightings or hearing them at various times of the day, they are present and without a plan to manage them properly, we will ultimately see a decline in deer numbers, especially a void in fawn recruitment. To take management to the next level, I embarked on becoming a trapper, whether using a cable restraint or foot-hold trap to properly curb the number of predators in our area. By broadening my horizons, I have become a deer’s best friend and a coyote’s worst nightmare. By discussing the threat of coyotes impacting our deer herds with other hunters, they have also become alarmed and often inquired of how to eradicate their numbers. The PGC (Pennsylvania Game Commission) readily admits that it does not monitor the coyote population, but does make guesstimates of how many coyotes and foxes are harvested annually. However, with the increased sales of furbearers licenses in the last 5 years (2009- 29,000+) – (2014 – 43,000+) there has been a dramatic increase in coyote harvests in that time; (2009 – 26,000+) – (2014 – 40,000+). Let’s keep in mind that the removal of coyotes does not secure the increase of fawn recruitment numbers. Trapping in Pennsylvania has a limited season for Coyotes and Foxes, (Oct 25-Feb. 21) as January and February are considered their “rut”. They can be caught with cable restraints and leg hold traps, being the most effective way. It’s important to note that in the pursuit of Coyotes, a furtaker license is not required to hunt them, but is required to trap them and the furtaker license is required to take any other furbearer by hunting or trapping, and in pursuit of those other furbearers (bobcat, fisher or otter), each has their own permits to purchase from the PGC. Although there are supplementary methods (increased cover & better nutrition for increased health) that offer fawns greater survival and help prevent predation, the removal of coyotes, on a greater scale, is paramount. By removing at least 70% of their numbers, from a given region, annually.

What can be done?

As a beginning trapper, I was truly fascinated in the effectiveness of trapping with leg hold traps being utilized on dirt-hole & flat sets. By watching several Youtube channel videos (Growing Deer w/ Dr. Grant Woods; The Management Advantage w/ Casey Shoopman & Trapping Time w/ Robbie Gilbert) reading various articles and talking with professional trappers, my “Trapping I.Q.” on the subject increased dramatically and I welcomed the challenge. Is trapping easy? Not by a longshot however my odds improved intensely. Knowing what equipment to use, the proper traps, the most effective baits & lures, locations that coyotes frequent the most and many other variables that will make all the difference in fulfilling our goal in removing these “deer killers”.

For example, here’s a list of how to properly lay a “dirt Hole” set:

  1. Once the dirt hole has been dug (6-8” deep x 1.5-2.5” wide), the trap pad should be 6-9” from the hole, and off to one side.

  2. The pad has to be off-set to factor in where his legs are compared to the hole when he/she is working the set. Generally, we don’t want the pad directly underneath the Coyote.

  3. The trap trigger faces the dirt hole.

  4. Remove all the debris from the set to ensure that it doesn’t get into the springs, so it closes properly on the coyotes foot.

  5. Its imperitive to measure out the set before the trap is layed to ensure the trap is sitting firmly in the ground by packing the dirt around it, so it doesn’t move when the coyote stands on it. If the trap does move, the coyote will feel it and get suspicious, leaving the area and not returning.

  6. You can stake the trap into the ground two ways: 1) use (2) rebar stakes, in a criss cross pattern, bang them into the ground approximately 18-24” and then set the trap; or 2) use a duckbill earth anchor on a 15-18” cable tied to the trap. Each method works well.

  7. Sift dirt or peat moss over the trap and level it out, remembering where the trap pad is. Some trappers take the extra step and use a trap pad screen to help avoid getting debris under the pad, that would ultimately prevent it from closing.

  8. Add lure or bait or both to the dirt hole by applying it to either sheep’s wool or a synthetic scent wick and then place it at the bottom of the hole. By doing so, it will cause the coyote to dig for it and try to remove it. The more the coyote tries to work the set, the better the chances are that it will set off the trap.

By being the complete manager and learning how to trap, we can effectively decrease the coyotes numbers, increase fawn recruitment and continue managing our deer numbers, minus any predator interference.

-John Buck-

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