The mindset of most hunters and landowners is simple; get rid of more predators, and save more deer.
But how big of an impact do bobcats and coyotes really play, and why does it seem that coyotes bear the brunt of the hate?
“Bobcats are pretty much nocturnal, so you’re not going to see near as many as coyotes,” said Kevin Herriman, project manager for several Wildlife Management Areas, including Old Sabine Bottom. “Cats aren’t as social, and don’t create social units like coyotes do. The carrying capacity of coyotes in an area is more than the carrying capacity of bobcats.”
When it comes to impacting deer populations, bobcats and coyotes don’t have as large of an effect as people tend to assume, according to Herriman.
“A coyote or bobcat will take the occasional fawn as the situation presents itself, but that’s not the most important portion of their diet,” he said. “They’ll take more small rodents, rabbits, and things of that nature. Coyotes will take that, and also grasshoppers, eggs and soft mast; so they have a much more diverse diet than bobcats do, which are basically true carnivores.”
Herriman said hunters are allowed to take coyotes during draw hunts, but he is more worried about the impact of feral hogs than varmints.
“Feral hogs are creating far more damage and a bigger impact on other species than bobcats or coyotes, which are native species,” he said. “Coyotes are what we call opportunistic animals; they’re not going to pass up anything that’s edible. If they spend more energy chasing down an animal and eating it than energy they receive, they’re on the losing end.”
Jason Cross, of Cross Outfitters, offers whitetail, exotic and turkey hunts in West Texas, where he said varmint control is necessary.
“We do a lot of predator control and have been for quite a few years, because it kind of devastates fawn crops if we don’t,” Cross said. “Our biggest deal is with coyotes, and control is mostly through snares on the fences. We do catch some bobcats, but from what we can tell they don’t bother much.”
Cross said after a few years of implemented control, the numbers of varmints has declined.
“We haven’t had a lot of fawn fatalities by coyotes because we’ve kept them down,” he said. “We don’t get a whole lot of coyotes now, but that’s what it takes is predator control.”
Texas Agrilife Extension Wildlife Specialist Dr. Dale Rollins said hunters and landowners probably tend to emphasize coyote control because of what they see.
“A coyote is not always a villain,” he said. “People are more worried about coyotes because you hear and see coyotes, and you just don’t see or notice the presence of bobcats, so you could underestimate the number you have.”
Rollins said that from one angle, a bobcat population could be worse than a coyote population.
“The one good thing the coyotes have going for them is they are very opportunistic, and eat a lot of fruits,” he said. “From a lot of standpoints that’s less damaging to a wildlife population than a bobcat, because (bobcats) don’t eat fruit.”
Rollins pointed to a study done on the King Ranch, where 308 bobcats and coyotes were removed from a particular area over a two-year stretch. Within only six months of the experiment ending, the predator numbers returned to their original numbers. During the same two-year stretch, fawn mortality was 67.5% higher on the area of the ranch where predator control was not implemented.
However, experiments done on the effect of coyotes on mature male whitetails showed that coyote removal did not change the number of harvestable bucks available.
“Half the papers suggest coyotes are a major problem, and half don’t,” Rollins said. “The answer for people usually just depends on which side you want to hear.”