The Australian Deer Association hosted a whirlwind visit by Dr. Craig A. Harper, Professor of Wildlife Management at the University of Tennessee, in March and April 2019. Craig was hosted by Professional Forester Rod Hill on the Tasmanian and Victorian section along with ADA Executive Officer Barry Howlett and other dedicated ADA people for the Victorian section.
The purpose of Dr. Harper’s visit was to highlight how habitat management can increase the quality of food and cover for deer, and how those property improvements can lead to more exciting hunting and increased hunting success. In particular, Dr. Harper’s visit was intended to help property managers interested in improving habitat and huntability for fallow and hog deer. In addition, Dr. Harper would give personnel with the ADA and Game Management Authority his perspective and recommendations on how regulations and management might be improved in Tasmania and Victoria to better manage deer species.
The first port of call was a property in Tasmania that focused on fallow deer management. The property owner had been following Dr. Harper’s recommendations for two years with regard to implementing prescribed fire and planting food plots. Dr. Harper was keen to view what progress had been made to date and make further recommendations. A week prior to Craig’s arrival, new food plots of oats/wheat, crimson and arrowleaf clover had been sown using a no-till seed drill. Germination was good and timely rain had the new plots looking good and already receiving use by deer. Craig also helped the landowner plant some additional food plots and provided further recommendations while on-site.
The next stop was the midlands of Tasmania — an area traditionally renowned as the fallow deer mecca for Tasmanian hunters since deer were released there in the 1830’s. A visit to a prominent property to view Tasmanian deer management still practicing Quality Deer Management set-up previously by QDMA CEO Brian Murphy was a must. The bonus here was that Dr. Harper had been generously invited to hunt fallow deer under Game Licence by the hunt group’s president and dedicated conservationist Mr Andrew Winwood. As anyone knows there are no guarantees with obtaining a representative buck during the one month Tasmanian season and especially a trophy buck. However, Dr. Harper was fortunate to view several deer while hunting over two days, including a mature stag that he was eventually able to harvest.
It was during the midlands and a later Central Highlands property visit that Dr. Harper gained the most insight into the deer management challenges that are faced by key stakeholders. Many discussions and debates were held on how to improve deer, hunter, and land management, with Dr. Harper leaving everyone with two key thoughts: 1) consider developing Deer Management Zones to deal with differing deer densities that occur across the Tasmanian landscape (no one regulation fits all areas); and 2) extend your deer season to allow hunters to harvest more antlerless deer in those areas where needed. Hear his podcast to find out more on these recommendations — found on ADA Facebook page.
To cap off the Tasmania visit, a dinner was held by ADA in Hobart, which was attended by approximately 50 invited guests, in particular to hear Dr. Harper give a presentation on deer management and the similarities between managing white-tailed deer in the US and fallow deer in Tasmania. The presentation was very entertaining and showcased Dr. Harper’s presentation skills in passing on his knowledge gained through 20+ years of scientific research.
A quick flight to Melbourne to attend the ADA 50th Deer Celebration ensued with Dr. Harper as one of the keynote speakers. Dr. Harper related the strong link between ADA and QDMA that was initiated in the 1980s by QDMA founder Joe Hamilton. That link continues stronger today than ever.
The next two weeks centred on visits to Boole Poole, Loch Sport, Sunday Island, and the Dargo high country. These respective visits were assisted by ADA stalwarts — Peter Stewart, Steve Garlick, Ken Slee, Lu Cervi, Ron Mayze, Col Brumley, and Para Park’s Barry Gell.
The take-home message while visiting properties that were or could be managed for hog deer was that unless those properties are managed with frequent disturbance (such as prescribed fire, selective herbicide applications, disking, and mowing), the early successional plant communities (dominated by grasses and forbs with scattered shrub cover) that are required by hog deer will slowly succeed to woodlands that will not support hog deer. Not only will hog deer habitat be lost, but other species (plant and animal) also will decline and ultimately disappear from those properties. It is in the interest of land managers to trial planned burning as a priority to reverse habitat loss in areas like Boole Poole or opportunities to hunt hog deer may be lost within just a few years. ADA has a current memorandum of understanding with Parks and Wildlife Victoria that could encompass the prescribed burning approach recommended to hog deer habitat as well as endemic wildlife species.
Another property visit was arranged with prominent landowners and wildlife managers Neil Page and Corrie deVisser, who manage property that is considered by many to be the best hog deer hunting opportunity in Victoria. Dr. Harper made a comprehensive tour of the property over 3 days with Neil and Corrie, detailing recommendations for both habitat and population management. Food plot planting recommendations, vegetation management recommendations (including herbicide applications to reduce unwanted plant species, and prescribed fire and mowing to increase forage availability), and considerations for managing stag harvest by age and not antler characteristics were meticulously outlined and discussed. As a bonus, Craig was able to hunt hog deer on the last day of the visit, and again he was fortunate to be able to take an exceptional hog deer stag. He was very happy!
The last day in Victoria allowed Dr. Harper to attend the Rural Press Club lunch with Agriculture minister Jaclyn Symes as the keynote speaker. This was followed by a meeting convened by ADA with Dr. Harper to discuss his findings and recommendations with SSAA, FGA, Para Park, Parks Victoria, Game Management Authority, and the Dept. of Jobs, Precincts, and Regions.
To better capture some of Dr. Harper’s thoughts and recommendations, Barry Howlett organised a wrap-up on the visit with a one-hour podcast that is available to listen to via the ADA website.
That evening, Dr. Harper enjoyed a fine dinner with ADA executive and friends at Merchant restaurant with a final recap of the three-week visit prior to his flight the next morning.
The ADA wishes to thank Dr. Harper for his recommendations on wildlife and habitat management whilst visiting Australia, and we look forward to seeing him again soon.
Dr. Craig Harper’s revised book “Wildlife Food Plots and Early Successional Plants” will be available in May 2019.