Recreational deer hunting is an appropriate and beneficial use of public land. This is known the world over — in jurisdictions where access to public land is not enabled, it is typically ideology and perception that are the key limiting factors.
The Queensland Government currently opposes access to public land for recreational deer hunting, as evidenced by the Environment Minister’s reply to a parliamentary petition tabled in 2019 to allow a trial of recreational hunting of deer in state forests. This contrasts markedly with the present situation in a number of other states in Australia, where recreational hunting is considered an integral component of the various potential uses for public lands, and an important tool for overabundant animal management. In an international context, recreational hunting is seen as a low-cost, effective strategy for managing deer populations mitigating negative impacts.
Recreational hunting promotes social interactions between members of the hunting fraternity, and fosters family and community cohesion. As hunting is conducted in the outdoors, it encourages a deeper connection with nature, which contributes to social wellbeing. Hunters typically report higher levels of wellbeing than non-hunters, and hunting has been demonstrated to inspire participants to learn new skills, creating a sense of achievement and fostering mental resilience which can be transferred to other aspects of a participants’ life. In many cases, hunting constitutes an activity which provides physical and health benefits that individuals may be unable to achieve by engaging in other pursuits. Hunting has particular health benefits for older males, who are prone to health-related risks associated with inactivity, as well as mental health issues ascribed to social isolation.
Overall, hunting contributes significantly to avoided health costs among the hunting fraternity. Any increase in the hunting population, which would be promoted by allowing hunting in state forests, is likely to contribute significantly to the overall health and wellbeing of the Queensland community.
Despite the benefits of permitting hunting on public land, recreational hunting is likely to always face resistance from certain segments of the community. In Queensland, it appears that this attitude permeates to the highest echelons of government. Given the present government stance against recreational hunting in state forests, advocating for a change in legislation is likely to face numerous challenges. Based on the information outlined in a report commissioned by the Australian Deer Association, the following recommendations have been made to us to provide a series of focal points while advocating for access to Queensland’s state forests for recreational deer hunters. We are sharing them with our readers in order to be upfront about where we are heading with this conversation.
Promote recreational hunting as an effective form of overabundant deer management
The prevailing view of hunting is of an ad hoc exercise that may have little real impact on pest animal populations. However, when conducted appropriately and with suitable objectives, recreational hunting is a legitimate tool for population control. Studies demonstrate that with the right regulations and incentives, recreational hunting has the potential to reduce overabundant deer populations, allowing ecological recovery and decreasing negative economic and social impacts. Integral to this concept is a shift in hunting culture whereby recreational hunters begin to self-identify as managers, rather than trophy or meat hunters. By targeting more female deer, as well as deer in younger age classes, recreational deer harvests can exert sufficient pressure on deer populations to cause a lasting reduction in population size and density.
Provide education and training that focuses on population control
Training and education can facilitate the cultural shift required for recreational hunters to identify as management agents. Evidence shows that recreational hunters in Australia already have a strong conservation focus, and an increased knowledge of the basic principles of population dynamics is likely to improve hunter satisfaction, and thereby maintain hunting pressure, in situations where deer densities drop below levels that would normally see a decrease in hunting effort. The Australian Deer Association and other hunting organisations already provide a number of training courses for individuals or groups, and it would be a simple matter to expand this education to include more management strategies. Any move allowing recreational hunting in Queensland’s state forests is likely to require additional licensing, and this training could form a component of the licensing process.
Focus on the positive economic and social impacts of hunting
Recreational hunting is practised by a large number of people in Australia, and contributes significantly to national, state and regional economies. Regional development is a key priority for the current Queensland government, given the growing unemployment rates in rural and regional areas throughout the state (2019–20). This is likely to have been exacerbated by recent events including bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, which have had serious impacts on economies of all scales throughout Australia. Permitting access to public lands in other states has resulted in an ongoing increase in the recreational hunting population, with concurrent increases in the positive economic impacts of the pursuit. A large portion of the economic contribution of recreational hunting on public lands in New South Wales and Victoria is directed at regional areas, and allowing recreational hunting in Queensland’s state forests is likely to stimulate economic growth and employment opportunities in several regional areas within the state. In addition, increased recreational hunting opportunities will increase the positive social and health impacts of hunting, which permeate through families and communities. Recreational hunters exhibit high social wellbeing, form strong connections to nature, and participate in a range of conservation-focused activities, having a positive overall impact on their social networks and communities.