Are Coyotes Driving Deer to Extinction?

Every single time we share information about coyotes, we get a rush of people— mostly hunters— with claims that coyotes are driving whitetail deer to extinction. It’s a claim that would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerously harmful.

Deer populations in the United States are at an all-time high nationwide, and so are coyote populations. While coyotes do sometimes prey upon deer— mostly fawns— they can’t and don’t have a substantial impact on deer populations anywhere. That’s actually unfortunate for the deer, since deer populations are now much higher than what is considered healthy or sustainable, and deer are suffering from disease and starvation as a result.

This chart from the University of Missouri and Missouri Department of Conservation shows the overall population of whitetail deer in the state. We are located in Tennessee, but used this chart because it is clear and precise.

They marked turning points that had a significant impact on deer, and we marked the point where coyotes experienced a massive nationwide population boom. Beginning in around the 1950s, coyotes took advantage of the loss of larger predators and spread rapidly through the West, then crossed the Mississippi and moved into the East, where they filled the niche left by their cousins the wolves.

At no point in the coyote’s expansion did whitetail deer become extinct or even endangered. Instead, habitat changes (and a lack of larger predators) have allowed deer to flourish like never before. Today, deer are frequent victims of car collisions in areas where they are overpopulated, and many are suffering from contagious illnesses like chronic wasting disease.

These statistics exist across the United States. Whatever state you live in— and whatever your neighbors and cousins and acquaintances say— coyotes are not driving your local deer to extinction and don’t need to be killed to “protect” other wild animals. Predators hunt prey and always have, and it’s part of a balance that has held the web of life together since time immemorial.

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