South Carolina

Are coyotes to blame for fewer deer in SC? How a Clemson professor is figuring it out

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Coyotes began migrating to SC 30 years ago. Now you may find them in your backyard.
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Coyotes began migrating to SC 30 years ago. Now you may find them in your backyard.

The deer population in South Carolina is down 30 percent, according to state wildlife officials. And the coyote population is on the rise.

A researcher from Clemson wants to know if the booming coyote numbers are to blame for fewer deer.

“Coyotes have a nasty reputation among deer hunters in South Carolina and Clemson University researchers are working to determine just how much of that notoriety they deserve,” the university said in a press release.

Clemson assistant professor David Jachowski is working with the U.S. Forest Service and the state Department of Natural Resources to figure out what impact coyotes have on the deer population in South Carolina.

“There’s this very strong hatred of coyotes in South Carolina for a variety of reasons,” Jachowski said in a university press release. “People view them as an invasive species that recently arrived and don’t belong here. And the big thing is that deer hunters blame coyotes for killing fawns and not having enough deer to shoot.”

Licensed trapper Walter English captures a coyote in Mount Holly, NC.

The five-year study will look at how many fawns coyotes kill each year in the Piedmont region. The researchers hope to figure out how the impact of coyote on deer in South Carolina compares to other areas in the Southeast, what makes some fawns more vulnerable and how humans could potentially have an influence, according to the university.

“For instance, do older doe select fawn bed sites (hidden spots) that better allow fawns to avoid coyote predation and are fawns that spend more time with their mothers more or less susceptible to coyote predation?” said Clemson doctoral student Mike Muthersbaugh, who is leading the deer side of the study.

Another Clemson Ph.D. student, Alex Jensen, is leading the study’s coyote portion. “The first record for a coyote was in 1978, and by the mid-1990s they were in the entire state,” Jensen said in the university’s press release. “Since then, they’ve been increasing in number and are now in every county in South Carolina, even the islands.”

“Anytime a new animal shows up somewhere, we want to know how it will affect the wildlife that are already there, especially if that animal is a relatively large predator,” Jensen said, according to the press release.

As part of the study, researchers will attach GPS trackers to does, fawns and coyotes to see how they interact, the university said. The research focuses on animals on private land in McCormick County.

A wily coyote ventured into Myrtle Beach International dashing through the terminal and sneaking past security before being captured by Horry County Animal Control.

“Certainly, coyotes and deer are often in roughly the same location at the same time, but that doesn’t always create a predation event,” DNR’s Jay Butfiloski said in the press release. “By having deer and coyotes with GPS collars in the same place at the same time, we may be able to better understand predation. Maybe there are even certain habitat features that reduce or, conversely, increase predation risks that can be found so that land managers can work to lessen some of these risks.”

Researchers started trapping coyotes to attach GPS collars in December and “are currently fitting does with GPS collars and birthing transmitters,” the press release said.

“While the researchers emphasized there is no penalty for killing a study animal, the researchers ask hunters in McCormick County to consider not shooting a GPS-collared coyote if they see one, unless it is actively endangering livestock or causing other immediate problems. They urge hunters who do shoot a collared or ear-tagged coyote to call the number on the ear tag or collar,” according to the university release.

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.