This past weekend, while camping in Northern Michigan with friends, we decided to go for a hike through the wooded sand dunes of the Lake Michigan coast. After spotting an interesting tree that would be perfect for a photo op, we snuck off trail to get closer. And I’m sure glad we did, because upon stepping over a nearby log we were greeted by the above image. A newly born fawn, curled up, patiently awaiting the return of it’s mother. Upon discovering this little guy, I launched into an explanation to my friends of why fawns are left by themselves, the chances of this fawns survival, the effect coyotes have had on fawn recruitment and an analysis of the available fawning cover in the area. Needless to say this all went way over their heads and they may not have been listening to me at all in fact! That being said, I figured it might be better for me to share my thoughts with the Wired To Hunt Nation instead! So below, I’ve outlined a few of the points I shared with my friends and elaborated even further.
Fawns Found Alone
Very often folks find small fawns curled up in some brush, all by themselves. To most people, this looks like an abandoned baby deer with no mother, so they assume the fawn is orphaned and take it away to their home or an animal shelter. Unfortunately this isn’t the case! I know many of you already know this, but for those that don’t, it’s an important lesson. Does leave their fawns by themselves during the initial weeks after birth and only visit them a handful of times during a given day. This is essentially a defense mechanism, to protect a fawn from being found by predators during these early days when a fawn could not out run said predator. Fawns do have a scent, but it is very minimal and by leaving the fawn hidden primarily on it’s own, a doe will not attract attention to the fawns location and predators will have a hard time finding them.
Factors Effecting Survival of Fawns
The term “fawn recruitment rate” is a measure of an average number of fawns that survive into the fall of their first year, per doe. So for example if the recruitment rate is 1.2 fawns, it would mean on average 1.2 fawns make it to their first fall season per every adult doe in the area. This rate is incredibly variable across different parts of the country, but recently researchers have seen a marked decline in a wide number of areas. Much of this has been attributed to increased predation by predators, specifically coyotes. The effect that coyotes are having on deer herds throughout america is becoming an increasingly worrying issue every year, and it’s a topic that deserves several blog posts on it’s own! But let me say this, they are definitely having an impact on deer, especially fawns. According to research presented to us by Dr. Karl Miller at the QDMA Deer Steward course, coyote predation has in some cases cut fawn recruitment rates in half or worse and coyote predation rates in some areas have been as high as 25-50%.
In addition to predation, factors such as nutrition available, health of the birthing mother and presence of good fawning cover are all important factors in the survival of fawns.
Good Fawning Cover
When we found the fawn pictured above, I was surprised and a bit dismayed by the area this fawn was hiding out in! It was next to a small log, with a few sparse bushes and plants nearby, but the fawn was largely out in the open and quite visible. Needless to say, this was not ideal fawning cover. Fawning cover really is an important factor to a fawns survival, mostly as a means to protect itself from predators. Being able to stay hidden is key and open wood-lots like where we found this fawn are definitely not ideal. In a perfect world a piece of property would have plenty of thick cover, with plenty of healthy forage in it or nearby. This allows a fawn to easily stay hidden and have quick access to food when it comes time to eat vegetation. The presence of good fawning cover greatly reduces the effect coyotes have on recruitment rate and it’s something that deer hunters and managers can greatly help with!
How We Can Help
As deer hunters and managers, we obviously want as many fawns as possible to survive their early months and make it to the fall. Luckily for us, there are a handful of ways we can help make this a reality. First off, as mentioned just above, we can have an easy impact on fawning cover. Work on your property to increase, grassy, brushy thick cover and you’ll without a doubt help more fawns survive. How can you do this? Try thinning out a timber lot to allow light to hit the floor and spur new growth, hinge-cut trees or plant warm-season grasses and other heavy cover plants in fields.
Secondly, you can help fawns survive by providing them and their mothers with high quality nutrition. This is important to do before the fawn is born, right through the time it is weaned. To do this, plan a food plot program that provides quality nutrition in those high stress periods of later winter, when food is scarce and summer when does are lactating and fawns are just starting to grow.
Lastly, you can certainly make an impact on your fawn recruitment rate by controlling your coyote population. This in itself is a topic for another day, but take the time to do some additional reading on this and make it a priority to look into it. Hunting and trapping coyotes in the spring, around the time of fawn drop, is most effective.
You can also diminish the effect predators have on your fawns, by managing your deer herd towards a more natural sex ratio. Having a closer buck to doe ratio within a deer herd will encourage a tight and well timed rut, resulting in a synchronized drop of fawns by most does in the spring. When sex ratios are skewed, deer can be bred over several cycles, which can lead to a fawn drop that lasts several months. It’s much harder for coyotes to kill large numbers of fawns when they all drop at the same time. It’s a whole different story when fawns are dropped periodically over a couple months.