When you are trying to increase fawn survival through trapping and hunting predators, you need to know whether your efforts are effective. Counting actual predator density is not feasible, but there are several ways to gauge the relative abundance of predators. Relative abundance means determining that you have more or fewer predators than you did at other points in time, or that one property has more or fewer predators than another property.
Keep in mind that predator numbers will rebound after a control effort, sometimes very quickly. You may knock a dent in coyote numbers in the spring, effectively reducing fawn predation that year, only to observe the same relative number of coyotes during the fall hunting season. Therefore, take pre-control and post-control measurements to monitor your predator removal success. More importantly, monitor fawn recruitment to measure the overall effectiveness of predator and habitat management efforts.
Here are five ways to monitor predator abundance where you hunt:
Observation: Simply record every time you or anyone in your hunting group sees a coyote. Your data set can include any and all sightings or be limited to a certain time period, such as hunting season. Compare total sightings year to year, pre-control to post-control, etc. To further refine this record, the number of sightings recorded can be measured against the amount of time your hunting group spent in the woods to get those sightings. At the end of the season, calculate the “hours per coyote sighted” and compare year to year.
Scat Counts: Identify a long stretch of roadway, firebreak or other travel corridor used by predators. Measure the “transect,” and once every few months clear all scats off the transect. Return two weeks later to count any new scats on the transect to determine a scat deposition rate. For example: If your transect is 1 mile long and after two weeks you found five new scats, your scat deposition rate would be five scats/14 days = 0.36 scats per day, per mile. Keep your eye on the trends, particularly year-to-year trends, and be sure you conduct your counts over the same transects at approximately the same time each year. (Note: conduct counts only during the fall, winter and spring, as scat breaks down faster in summer).
Track Counts: Select a small area such as a stretch of dirt road where the ground is always open and where animal tracks are consistently visible in the soil type. Count the total number of coyote or bobcat tracks visible in the sample area (this assumes you can separate and identify these tracks from other animals). Count tracks again on a monthly basis in the same sample area. Try to conduct each count the same number of days after a rain event has cleared old tracks (Example: always count tracks three days after rain).
Trail-Camera Surveys: If you conduct a formal trail-camera survey each year for deer population monitoring, compare the total number of predator photos in each survey year to year. Refer to NDA’s book, Deer Cameras: The Science of Scouting, for guidance on conducting a trail-camera survey.
Fawn Recruitment Data: This is the ultimate measure of your success. Fawn recruitment can be tracked in trail-camera surveys, hunting observation data, doe lactation status in your harvest data, and other methods. If your trapping and calling efforts are successful, you should see a corresponding increase in fawn recruitment. But remember, any habitat improvements that coincide with predator control might also be controlling predation and increasing recruitment.