We don’t know how many deer there are in Victoria. What we do know is that there are significant populations, particularly in the East of the State, and that they are well established and, in areas, dispersing. Disturbance from last summer’s bushfires, whilst initially killing some deer, will likely result in conditions which are very favourable for wild deer (sambar in particular).
We also don’t know what impact recreational hunting has on mitigating unwanted impacts from wild deer – there are areas where this is likely significant, but, it is unquantified.
If we look at the reporting of Government funded deer control programs, it’s fair to conclude that the impact of recreational hunting is important and significant.
Parks Victoria have recently reported to us on ‘the success’ of an aerial control program which has been operating since early February which has removed just under 2,000 deer in a ‘target area’ of around 2,600km2 or around 0.75 deer per km2. We requested more meaningful information from Parks Victoria so that we can report properly on the management and ecological implications of the aerial control program – to date all we have is a fairly meaningless metric of ‘minutes per animal’ (and even then, the mathematics don’t stack up).
By comparison, recreational deer hunters take around 150,000 wild deer a year in Victoria, mostly sambar, mostly on public land, mostly female. Given the restrictions in place we expect a dramatic decline in the 2020 recreational harvest. The management and conservation implications of this gap will almost certainly never be properly reported on or quantified. They will also compound over the coming years. Just as regulated deer hunting provides ‘triple bottom line’ benefits to the community (social, economic and environmental), the absence of hunting denies the community those benefits.
As a rule of thumb you can take about 25% of the population out through hunting in a given year without reducing the overall population. There are, of course, a number of variables in the growth curve including available resources and habitat and other causes of mortality such as predation and disease.
Crude, back of the envelope calculations suggest that the population growth as a result of this missed harvest will be notable.
All told (if the current lockdown goes really well), most Victorian deer hunters will miss fifteen weeks out of the twenty-four week ‘peak’ deer hunting period.
This period accounts for the lion’s share of Victoria’s recreational harvest, with an average of around 4,000 deer a week.
Even if we assume that the harvest has only been reduced by 80% over the lockdown and restriction periods, that’s 48,000 deer not taken by hunters this year. Put a 25% increase on that and that’s potentially 60,000 ‘extra’ deer walking around next year, as many as 75,000 in 2022 and just under 100,000 the year after. The impact of those 'extra' deer numbers will vary, from benign in some areas to detrimental in others.
All of this is speculation, educated guesses (at best).
This just highlights the need for there to be a well-structured and resourced deer management strategy in Victoria, and, for the role of recreational hunters to feature prominently in that.