It was an ugly sight as the three coyotes circled the healthy adult doe caught in waist deep snow. She was bleeding from her lip and rear where the dogs had savagely ripped away pieces of flesh. After a long exhausting dash in the deep snow she was tired, tongue hanging out as she struggled to breathe and avoid the sharp fangs. The coyotes looked happy, wagged their bushy tails as they pranced on top of the snowdrift in a deadly dance around the floundering helpless adult deer.
I watched the brutal attack through powerful Nikon 50mm binoculars and when the coyotes eventually drew blood and took the deer down I found their actions extremely violent as the bloodthirsty dogs ripped flesh from the deer that was still very much alive. The disgusting event made my blood boil and I glanced at the .22 magnum Ruger rifle and thought about surprising the coyotes with some hot lead. The spectacle reminded me of National Geographic film specials showing feeding lions, hyenas disemboweling prey, leopard and other predators as they take down large game animals and rip them to shreds. I turned my head, drove away but visited the area the next day. There in the snow were the remains of the perfectly healthy deer minus the hind quarters, vital organs and just about all the meat but stomach content and intestine filled with feces were still intact. The head was still attached to the hide but the animal’s skin was turned inside out and all meat was missing. The sight made my stomach turn and I spent several days in the immediate area calling coyote at night and shooting the hell out of them. Every time a dog would bounce into the scope I would envision the mangled deer and shoot with a vengeance.
A recent letter from a reader asked “Do coyote have an impact on Michigan’s deer herd?” I guess I have a very biased opinion about coyote based on several encounters regarding whitetailed deer and coyotes. Ya know, I kind of love coyote and look forward to seeing them and after all they are one of Nature’s wild creatures and need to eat too. But then I think about the gross visions that come to mind of coyote deer kills and I quickly become a coyote hater, big time. Keep in mind that I have witnessed in the field how coyote kill turkey and deer, seen them take life and witnessed brutal attacks that would turn the stomach of seasoned outdoorsmen. There is nothing pretty about how coyotes kill deer and it is interesting how they secretly, silently are killing deer year round and few Michigan residents have the faintest idea these wildlife murders take place nightly. Coyote are brazen and bold, they rule the rural environment and it is amazing how quickly they took over inner-city turf. Some would say coyote rule the earth when the night is dark and citizens are sound asleep.
To answer the question, I would say coyote absolutely make a huge dent in Michigan’s deer herd. Keep in mind that Michigan’s coyote population is at an all-time high following a severe deer epidemic of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) which is a viral hemorrhagic disease causing extensive hemorrhaging in Michigan deer. EHD is viral and caused by biting midges and our deer herd was devastated in 2012. This means there was suddenly an abundance of dazed, sick and dying deer available for coyotes to eat. In most of the state they responded to the increase in food by having more pups. In some counties they double pupped and out of nowhere the coyote population skyrocketed to meet the demand for more predators to eat the sick and dying deer. The following year the deer numbers were drastically reduced, the EHD epidemic was over and less sick deer were available to feed coyotes. So Michigan’s coyote population is super strong and the deer herd is low and stumbling from the massive die off and cold winter of 2014. This means the remaining healthy deer are constantly harassed by roaming packs of coyote.
In the past it was common for Upper Peninsula deer hunters to lose venison if they allowed a crippled or dressed animal to remain outside overnight. This is now the case throughout Michigan and savvy hunters are reluctant to leave animals overnight because come daylight the venison is devoured by hungry coyote. It is also common for travelers to see coyote feeding on road kill along Michigan’s highways and expressways. If you wound a deer you might as well kiss the venison goodbye in most parts of Michigan.
Last fall in Jackson County I made a liver hit on a big 10-point during archery season but the blood trail soon ended and I lost the deer. Later I recovered the beautiful rack but the deer was almost totally eaten by coyotes. This is now common in southern Michigan because the coyote population is out of control. In the inner city coyotes dine on road kill. Coyotes live to be fat near the city because they also kill and eat neighborhood cats and dogs. If you live in a Michigan community and you have a bird feeder that attracts squirrel, rabbit, birds, turkey and deer I guarantee that coyote will visit your yard in the dead of night looking for a late night snack.
The snow and cold temperatures last winter gave coyote an opportunity to chow down on venison. Deer struggling to move in deep snow are easy targets for hungry coyote that can prance across the white blanket. Last spring I found plenty of deer carcasses indicating that coyote had easy hunting winter 2014. When I ask Michigan’s DNR deer specialist about the increased number of deer killed during severe weather by coyote they simply agreed “more than sportsmen would estimate” but they have no clear data. It is my opinion the DNR has no idea how many coyote are roaming Michigan, poor data on the dynamics of the population and no way of determining how many deer they eat.
I’m no biologist but I can guarantee that coyote raise hell with deer when hunters are looking the other direction. No they don’t steal them from deer camps, or destroy the population in winter but spring is when they dine on fresh venison on a regular basis. I’ve seen it happen several times and so have plenty of other spring turkey hunters. In early spring coyote will come to a turkey call like a magnet, searching for a turkey dinner. I’ve dusted my share of coyote with BBs charging turkey decoys and so have many other Michigan turkey hunters. But come late April and early May coyote seem to disappear, they are no longer chasing love sick toms gobbling every few minutes and loudly announcing their exact location. This is because deer are giving birth to fawns and coyote are getting fat on fresh fawn venison steaks. When weather warms; adult does drop fawns in late April and early May. There comes a time when the does separate from herds and if you jump a doe and go to where she jumped up you will find a fawn. Spring mushroom hunters often encounter fawns because there comes a time when almost every deer has a fawn hidden nearby.
I love spring when fawns are everywhere because I’ll jump a doe, stalk the spot and there in the cover is the cutest baby deer in the whole world. No, I don’t touch them but I love to see them and take pictures of the beautiful baby deer. Sometimes doe will drop a fawn in very unusual locations like open pastures, around ponds, plowed fields, just about anywhere. I think they give birth in unusual locations in an attempt to avoid coyote.
While turkey hunting I heard the bawl of a baby fawn over the hill. I grabbed 3-inch 12 ga. Benelli and headed the direction of the screaming baby deer. When I came over the hill I witnessed a doe kicking and chasing a full grown male coyote. The dark male dog playfully pranced away from the furious mother and when she moved his direction I saw a fawn lying nearby. The coyote quickly switched directions, circled, zoomed past mom and grabbed the fawn. The baby deer bawled, mom struggled to catch the coyote sprinting away with her baby and eventually stomped his tail with her hooves. The coyote dropped the fawn, pranced away but soon as mom chased after him he circled and attacked the fawn again. That’s when I stepped in, shouldered Mr. Benelli and gave the yodeler a blast of turkey loads square in the ass. The big coyote immediately dropped the baby deer and did plenty of howling and crying as he disappeared over the hill headed for the woods. The next morning the fawn was gone.
Two days later I was hiding in thick cover near a new turkey hotspot and caught motion in the underbrush and spotted a coyote dancing through the forest with a dead fawn in his maw. I was surprised to see the coyote traveling with a baby deer in its teeth. One shot sent the predator in a tailspin and close inspection revealed the baby deer was still bleeding, somewhat alive and it became obvious the coyote had just made a kill. That’s when it dawned on me that coyotes were feasting on baby deer during peak fawning periods.
I contacted the DNR but they had never heard of such a thing. Hey, what a surprise. After several encounters with coyote in spring and finding fawn remains it is my opinion that the predators have a feast in spring. Trouble with fawns is they actually have very little meat and an adult coyote would need to kill several to satisfy their appetite. If a coyote were to simply stumble through the woods during peak fawning time could he resist the urge to kill each time he encountered a fawn? I doubt it!
Therefore, it is my opinion that Michigan’s deer herd is being impacted at an uncontrollable rate during spring and the DNR has no idea murder is taking place on a grandiose scale. I can assure you that in many cases when you see a doe with one fawn the other was snatched up by a coyote. When you see a group of healthy does in late summer with no fawns I’m convinced the little ones got gulped down by hungry coyote. Have you ever noticed there are far fewer fawns in areas that are overrun by coyote?
I hate to sound like a wildlife hater but it is my opinion Michigan’s rising coyote population is having a negative impact on whitetail recruitment. Maybe coyote are not killing many adult deer throughout the Great Lakes state but they are absolutely feasting on fawns in record numbers. My solution to the problem is simple, time to get out the electronic calls, flat shooting rifles!