It’s incredible isn’t it that one of our most favoured pastimes involves the pursuit of introduced quarry? The numbers of wild deer have escalated over the past 20 years. When I was a young bloke if you found a set of marks you got excited, nowadays if I don’t see half a dozen deer in a trip away I think it wasn’t the best weekend.
Deer, however, are not the only wild introduced species with escalating numbers. Dogs are a greater problem than many know and those who know don’t always want to acknowledge the fact. I call them wild dogs as there would be very few actual pure dingoes left in the wild. DNA mapping carried out in several states has proven that although the animals are carrying the correct genes none are 100 per cent pure compared with some aboriginal dingo skins that date back to the mid-1800s. It seems that the infusion with domestic dogs is now complete.
Wide use of radio-telemetry equipment and the tagging of animals has proved that they wander great distances, more likely in young males, with documented accounts of a Benambra-collared dog at Tumut and Queensland animals turning up in New South Wales. Because of this the opportunity for chance liaisons with domestic animals is as real now as it has always been.
When I was a Pup
My parents selected a block of land at Willow Grove in the Gippsland foothills in 1955. I really don’t know how far back my memory goes but when growing up and travelling back and forth to the block I remember there were always wild dogs about. They would follow the car but my father never worried about them and would walk down to check the cattle and feed them hay while leaving us kids in the car with a warning that if the dogs appeared to stay in the vehicle. I do remember throwing scraps from the car to feed them on occasions.
Even back then, the dogs were a multi-coloured bunch of curs - some quite large, bigger than a German shepherd. I don’t remember any predation of our cattle at that time so they probably got enough out of the wallaby population.
Dogs still prevail in the area and in early 2000 we had the trapper out to lower the population living in the fringe country. They are still a multi-coloured bunch with the odd true-to-type yellow dingo, even though they are not genetically pure.
Stories of hair raising confrontations with wild dogs are common but until it happens to you it is not something you would give a second thought to. My turn came when I least expected, out alone in the middle of nowhere hunting in a mix of burnt and unburnt forest. I was contouring about 100 metres above a gully bottom, planning to eventually cross over to stalk a flat-topped spur that hadn’t been burnt - somewhere one would expect a big honker to be camped, taking into account that hiding areas were at a premium in the burnt landscape.
What happened next wasn’t in the plan. Initially I heard a number of yips reminiscent of a pup being scolded. Then some deep growls, becoming louder as they approached down the opposite slope of the gully. When the dogs came into view, they were about ten in number and coming lickety-split in my direction. It was obvious they were hunting although I hadn’t seen any quarry. I thought that a photo would be in order. While struggling to get my backpack off to retrieve the camera they crossed the creek in full voice - it was then that I realised that I was the quarry.
Damn! I hurriedly slid the pack back on as I was still entangled in it, then dropped on one knee, rifle ready as the lead bitch pulled up not 20 metres away to have another look at what may be their lunch. A projectile from my Browning .300WSM sorted her out and at the report of the rifle the others lost heart as well and scattered to parts unknown.
I’m aware that many of these incidents occur to other hunters, farmers and loggers. All have a story to tell of confrontations with wild dogs and I suppose very few injuries have been recorded but with larger packs roaming the bush the outcome might be different if a young or injured person or a lone bushwalker or broken down motor cyclist was involved.
Wild Dogs and Sambar
It’s only in recent times since I’ve been hunting in very isolated areas that I have seen first-hand how sambar are affected by the wild dogs. Having trail cameras scattered around has certainly been an eye-opener as well – I have a number of photographs of dogs trying to isolate a calf from its hind. I have no idea how successful they might be, but just the fact they are trying means that they must be successful on occasions.
Having to deal with a 250-kilogram hind to get at the calf would almost certainly mean that the wild dogs would have to alter their technique considerably from wombat, wallaby and kangaroo hunting. Taking to water might swing the odds in the deer’s favour too. And in my experience where there are a large number of dogs, sambar avoid open areas, only moving about in groups, presumably because there is safety in numbers. In this situation, the deer also tend to park up in the steepest ugliest scrub-covered areas.
Only a few months ago, I was sitting in camp and heard a deer squealing nearby, so went to investigate. To my surprise a hind was coming towards the river with five wild dogs hanging off her front. Unfortunately, the old hunter had a senior moment and shot the deer and missed a great opportunity to record the event on film. She was on the bank of the stream at the time in plain view. But that’s life, you make instant decisions not all of which are correct!
Hunters have long suspected that wild dogs and possibly wedge-tailed eagles predate on sambar on occasions, so it is really no surprise that with the current high deer numbers and more hunters out there, more interactions between deer and wild dogs are being seen and recorded.