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Should Trapping Be Part of Your Property Management?

When Time is limited on your farm make sure you're getting the biggest bang for your buck!

Many animals get blamed for the decline of local quail, pheasant, and turkey populations, including; raccoons, opossums, skunks, and foxes.  In the deer world, coyotes and bobcats have recently received much blame regarding fawn predation. As consultants, we are often asked, “If I trapped coyotes on my farm, wouldn’t that help my deer herd grow?”  We also hear, “If I killed every raccoon and opossum I could, wouldn’t that help my quail (or turkey, or pheasant, or whatever ground nesting bird)?” Well, those are quite loaded, complicated questions. The short answer is NO.  Simply removing predatory animals will only result in a very short-term benefit, if ANY benefit is ever realized.  

First, we must understand the species we are attempting to promote; quail, turkey, deer, or something else.  We must fully understand what habitat(s) our target species needs, and assess what the property is lacking. For each species, this is somewhat different, and I won’t attempt to explain it all in this blog, but listen to past podcasts.  Second, we must understand the predation type and significance of the predators we are potentially battling. Ground nesting birds suffer nest predation from several animals, including; snakes, raccoons, opossums, skunks, coyotes, foxes, armadillos, fire ants (where they exist), rodents, and likely others.  Some of these birds also suffer adult mortality to a few of the same species, but also hawks and owls. The food chain is so complex, that manipulating one species often causes an unrealized release of another species. For example, in bobwhite quail populations, studies have shown the removal of hawks and owls results in an increase of snakes.  Snakes are one of the top nest predators of quail. So, the removal of hawks and owls may reduce adult quail mortalities, but the release of the snake population reduces the quail nesting success. Nothing is gained, and possibly more is lost.  

If we were concerned with deer fawn predation, the removal of coyotes may be planned.  However, the removal of coyotes results in multiple negative effects. Coyotes can adjust their reproduction capacity based on local population densities.  The more you remove, the bigger litters the remaining females will have the following year, thus quickly replenishing the population. Additionally, coyotes are known to predate raccoons, opossums, foxes, rodents among other things.  All of these species predate bird nests of turkeys, quail, pheasants, etc. Those species can increase in abundance due to the removal of coyotes, thus hurting the populations of other wildlife you may desire.

At this point, you may be thinking we are anti-trapping.  Quite the contrary. Both Frank and myself trap furbearers.  But we do it for reasons beyond wildlife management. We trap because we enjoy it.  It’s another reason to spend time outdoors with our kids, our families, our friends.  We sometimes trap to remove specific problem animals from an unwanted location, like otters in a fishing pond.  But we also trap hoping we maybe save a turkey or quail nest on occasion. Our real solution for reducing predation to promote a desirable species is to MANAGE against predators. We don’t leave dense brush piles which become homes for skunks and opossums.  We maintain as large as possible fawning areas to reduce the search efficiency of coyotes. In grasslands, we cut down scattered trees that serve as raptor perches. Habitat management is the absolute foundation for all species. Spending 200 hours trapping predators, when you could use those 200 hours improving habitat, would be a mistake.  If you have the time to do it all, without jeopardizing your habitat accomplishments, then get after it. Or, let a local trapper trap your farm. You still spend time working on habitat projects, and someone else removes excess predators from your farm.  

If you want to do it all yourself, trap because you enjoy it, or want another use of your farm, or because you are retired and every single inch of your farm is perfect habitat.  But don’t be fooled into thinking trapping predators will magically fix all your struggling game populations, without working on your habitat. You will be very tired, and very disappointed.

Kyle Hedges - Land & Legacy Consultant

To hear Kyle and Frank Loncarich discuss this topic in length checkout a recent podcast!