A major criticism levelled by anti hunters about the role that recreational hunting plays in deer management in Australia is that it is ineffective and untargeted – this is a classic ‘straw man' argument which deliberately misrepresents the intentions and motivations of many recreational hunters.
For much of the two hundred and seven year history of deer hunting in Australia the motivation of hunters has been, for the most part, to hunt - not to manage the overabundance of wild deer (until relatively recently wild deer were rarely overabundant in this country). That is not to say that recreational hunting has not got a significant role to play in this regard.
Over the past twenty five years the deer situation and the hunting situation in Australia has changed markedly. There are more deer and more hunters than there ever has been yet most of the barriers to accessing deer populations remain as they have for decades. Along with being denied permission to hunt deer in a number of areas of public land (particularly National Parks) where wild deer are abundant, there are also many areas of public land where deer hunters ostensibly have permission to hunt but where access to deer populations is not feasible due to management factors such as track closures.
In recent years hunters have engaged with government land management agencies to conduct wild deer management programs in a number of areas where normal recreational hunting is not possible for a number of reasons (such as urban interfaces, high visitation parks and political factors). These programs have clearly set objectives and success is measured. At a fundamental level these programs prove that recreational hunters are an effective and efficient management tool.
A study conducted in New Zealand in 2000 found that recreational hunting compares very favourably with commercial hunting when it comes to conservation outcomes. The study’s author, Ken Fraser, outlines the key benefits of land managers partnering with recreational hunters to manage wild deer populations:
‘Perhaps the single most important advantage of enhanced recreational hunting is its public acceptability. In general, public preference is for control methods that are ground-based, do not rely on toxins, and which make use of the animals killed. Therefore, all else being equal, managers should favour enhanced recreational hunting if it can achieve the desired goal. The fact that social, aesthetic, and other dimensions of hunting are more important to many recreational hunters satisfaction than actual hunting success or killing game, suggests that there is considerable scope for enhancing the impact and contribution of recreational hunters to animal control.
Enhanced recreational hunting will be most cost-effective where the enhancement can be achieved through a few time-limited actions such as the provision of more access (e.g. roads, tracks, legal rights-of-way across private land). The most suitable approach for any one area will vary, depending upon a number of factors:
- Severity of the threat posed by deer and the size of the area in which additional control is needed
- Level of additional control required
- Location and accessibility of the area in relation to the distances from major population centres and/or processing plants
- Availability and nature of other hunting opportunities in the same area
- Availability of hunters
Recreational hunters are likely to be the most difficult to target to specific areas, unless there are area-specific incentives. Identifying for hunters areas with higher than average deer densities and providing or improving access (including helicopter landing sites) are examples of such area-specific tools, as is the use of incentives such as prizes for shooting tagged animals.’
In the Australian context enhanced recreational hunting could involve many elements, including
- Targeting hunters to problem areas on land where hunting is currently permitted
- Opening currently closed areas to recreational hunting
- Expanding control programs in difficult areas
Or it could mean a combination of some of these and some other elements. It should come with a clear targets and clear monitoring so that the contribution of hunting can be properly assessed.
Deer population and distribution in Australia is likely to continue to increase for the foreseeable future. Governments, land managers, hunters and everyone with an interest in deer need to be agile, open minded and leave behind historic prejudices and animosities.
There are over 41,000 licensed deer hunters in Victoria alone, the opportunities for government, hunters and other conservationists are there for the taking.