Sebastien Comte, Elaine Thomas, Andrew J. Bengsen, Ami Bennett, Naomi E. Davis,
Daniel Brown and David M. Forsyth
Introduced sambar deer (Cervus unicolor) are increasing in south-eastern Australia, and both volunteer and contract ground-based shooters are being used by management agencies to control their undesirable impacts. However, little is known about the effectiveness and costs of volunteer and contract shooters for controlling deer populations in Australia.
We evaluated the effectiveness and costs of volunteer and contract ground-based shooters for controlling sambar deer and their impacts in a 5-year management program conducted in and around alpine peatlands in Alpine National Park, Victoria.
Ground-based shooting operations were organised in two blocks. Within each block, four ~4200-ha management units were delimited, of which two were randomly assigned as treatment (ground-based shooting) and two as non-treatment (no organised ground-based shooting). In the treatment units, ground-based shooting was conducted using either volunteers or contractors. Each shooting team recorded their effort and the numbers of deer seen and shot, and used a GPS to record their track log and the time and locations of deer shot. Key costs were recorded for both shooter types.
The catch per unit effort of contract shooters was four times greater than that of volunteer shooters. Both shooter types were most effective during the first half of the night and prior to sunrise, and when using a vehicle with a spotlight or walking with thermal-vision equipment. During the day, the use of gundogs to indicate deer significantly increased the success rate of volunteer shooters. Both volunteer and contract shooters used roads and tracks to move in the landscape, but contractors covered more ground than did volunteers. After accounting for key operational costs, the cost per deer killed was 10.1% higher for contract than volunteer shooters.
The effectiveness of ground-based shooters is increased by operating at night using vehicles, spotlights and thermal-vision equipment. Contract shooters kill sambar deer at a faster rate, but are slightly more expensive per deer killed, than are volunteer shooters.
Ground-based shooting is likely to be most effective when conducted at night with thermal-vision equipment, and in areas with a high density of roads and tracks.