Raccoons, Other Badly Hunted Predators Affecting Young Game Animals |

The calendar tells us that it is officially summer. Let’s take a drive and then a walk along the typical country road, we’ll see, we’ll see.

First, there seems to be a good crop of young rabbits. But don’t we often think that’s the case this time of year? Yeah, every time we take a curve in the road, there are a half-grown rabbit or two running into the brush when they see us. This is very encouraging for all those who have a pen full of beagles begging them to open the door. (and for those of us with them) Hunters think there will be plenty of rabbits to hunt in November, but sometimes there just isn’t. How?

Everything eats a rabbit. From the tiniest Least Weasel (the world’s smallest mammalian predator) to the largest Eastern Coyote and Black Bear, no one will turn down a rabbit dinner. So while the number of rabbits raised during the summer is a lot, I’ll bet half of them won’t see the snow fly. That’s the way it is if you’re a cottontail rabbit. I’m not sure if the survival rate is better for their cousin the snowshoe hare, they live in a different environment, but they still have plenty of vermin looking for that rabbit dinner, including plenty of birds. (hawks, owls and eagles).

squirrels? I’m not exactly sure. At this time of year they can be difficult to spot. My squirrel dog gurus remind me that we are entering a period where squirrels may not spend much time on the ground. This makes them harder to see and harder to give to a certain little Cur dog I know of some practice like a squirrel dog, not to mention if you do a squirrel now that the foliage is so thick it’s almost impossible to find. Overall I expect there to be a good squirrel population this year, I think there might be as we’ve had quite a few over the last few years.

The deer seem to have done well in fawn production around here and overall I would say deer numbers have increased in my area. While I don’t blame coyotes for all the world’s ills (I think some people blame the coyote if the stock market goes down), there’s no question that they take a lot of fawn deer. How many coyotes we actually have is a confusing question, but if you have a pack or two operating in your area, they will affect the deer population.

You knew it was going to hit the turkeys, and I’m cautiously optimistic. Although the spring weather wasn’t perfect for hatching turkeys, it could have been a lot worse. I haven’t seen many young turkey chicks yet, but my extensive network of spies reports several sightings. As usual, they also state that they are seeing hatchlings of different sizes. Not all turkeys hatch at the same time, and hens sometimes return to nest after the first time fails. It is very good that they do this, as the number of poults that actually reach maturity is alarmingly low. Ground-nesting birds have a big knock against them from the start. Many of the creatures scurrying across the forest floor are looking for that nest. Raccoons, opossums and skunks are the main culprits here, but the list of their accomplices is long. Coyotes, foxes, bears, ravens (big nest robbers) and even squirrels and some snakes will partake of a scrambled egg breakfast if they find the nest.

This discussion tends to bring up the whole issue of predator management. There is a current trend in some states to address predators as to how they are affecting the wild turkey population. Turkey numbers seem to be struggling in many southeastern states and some of the fish and game agencies are trying to see that. In addition to lowering the bag limit on spring wolverines, several states are increasing the limit on predators like raccoons and offering longer hunting and trapping seasons.

Just to give my not-so-humble opinion, I think it’s a good thing that some of the states are acknowledging the predator problem as it affects turkeys, but we may be fighting a hopeless battle. The number of people trapped is at an all time low and may never return. Between a fur market that is nearly dead and the dire specter of public opinion against trapping, we have raccoon populations through the roof. I never thought I would see as many raccoons as we have in my area, there was a time when if we were looking for a ringtail we thought it should be in the paper and on the six o’clock news. So there are not enough hunters and not enough people hunting raccoons to keep the numbers down and we pay for it with fewer bucks. I’m not sure there is any answer to all of this.

Well I don’t want to be too pessimistic here, it looks like we may have a good turkey hatch and so far the mast situation i.e. the harvest of acorns, hickory nuts, beech and other natural foods may be quite good this year. Let’s hope for the best.

Enjoy the beach and your summer, don’t get impatient, autumn will come soon. We will meet in all of this again closer to when the leaves begin to turn.

Larry Case writes outdoor columns for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. Contact him by email at: [email protected]