Deer Control Methods
Table of Contents
The options for deer control are limited to shooting (aerial and ground shooting) which can be assisted by use of spotlights, thermal imaging, infrared, night vision, noise suppressors, deterrents and trapping (and humanely euthanising), or exclusion fencing (NFDAP 2023).
Deer management generally requires the use of a combination of methods which will be determined by factors such as property size, location, property use, surrounding land use, topography, existing deer numbers, and available resources.
Management of deer while still in low numbers will reduce costs and contain deer in the long term. Greater numbers of deer will require more ongoing effort, resources, and costs to manage and reduce numbers to target levels.
It is important that any methods used are safe and humane and meet legal requirements. These activities must be undertaken in accordance with legislation and regulations outline here; Legislation. Pest Smart provides more information on the effective and humane management of feral and wild deer: National Code of Practice for the Effective and Humane Management of Feral and Wild Deer – PestSmart
Lethal Control Methods
Landowner and volunteer recreational shooters
Ground shooting can provide effective control of a small to moderate number of deer but needs to be undertaken regularly and intensively at the start (starting weekly to fortnightly then decreasing or increasing to a point that deer numbers are reduced to the desired level) (NFDAP 2023) (Image 25). Ground shooting is time consuming, labour intensive and requires skilled, experienced shooters (NFDAP 2023).
Recreational shooting for meat or trophies alone will not adequately control deer numbers (NFDAP 2023). Recreational hunters may be able to assist but it is important to make clear to hunters what requirements you have for their conduct and behaviour and the objectives you have for your property that you want met. Hunters must also meet legal requirements to hunt on your property controlling-problem-deer-on-private-property .
Pest Smart has more information on ground shooting: National Standard Operating Procedure: Ground shooting for feral and wild deer – PestSmart
The Sporting Shooters Association (SSAA) is non-government organisation that promotes shooting sports. It has a farmer assist program which can provide insured SSAA accredited shooters to control deer under conditions applied by the landowner at no fee. More informationat: Sporting Shooters Farmer assist
What equipment will I require?
The equipment required for ground shooting can be expensive including firearms, ammunition, spotlights and night vision or thermal scopes and drones (Image 26) and possibly hunting hounds (Image 10) (NFDAP 2023).
Thermal scopes can be attached to firearms for increased accuracy (NFDAP 2023). Thermal video cameras can be attached to drones or hand held in a car or helicopter to assist with detection and location of deer (NFDAP 2023). Many more animals can be detected with thermal drones than with the naked eye (NFDAP 2023).
There may also be the cost of noise suppressors. Silencers causes less disturbance to neighbours and deer allowing more deer to be shot in one place at one time (NFDAP 2023). There are legal requirements that must be met to use spotlights and silencers which are outlined in the Legislation section.
Refer to the Game Management Authority information for private land owners available at: controlling-problem-deer-on-private-property and the Legislation section to find about what you are permitted to do when undertaking ground shooting on your property. Additional information sources are also provided in the Information resources section.
If undertaking shooting it is recommended that you contact neighbours, relevant community groups such as Landcare and the police beforehand.
Sambar deer can be hunted with hounds which can help find and flush deer out of hiding. Shooters need to pass the Hound Hunting Test to hunt with hounds to ensure they are aware of legal, ethical and safety requirements (GMA 2023). There are seasons for hunting Sambar deer with hounds on public land and regulations around the number of hounds, hunters and dog breeds that can be used. The The Victorian Hound Hunters Inc website provides information on the breeds of hounds that can be used. Some areas of public land in Victorian are closed to hound hunting so if hounds are used on private property they must not enter these areas. Maps of areas closed to hound hunting are available at: areas-closed-to-all-hound-hunting. Hounds used for hunting must be registered with the Game Management Authority (GMA 2023).
Aerial shooting from a helicopter
Aerial shooting by professional pest controllers provides effective control and the best way to effectively and quickly reduce large numbers of deer over thousands of hectares and particularly for inaccessible areas (NFDAP 2023) (Image 27). High quality thermal detection technology greatly increases effectiveness of aerial shooting (NFDAP 2023).
Aerial shooting is an expensive option which requires skilled shooters and pilots who must follow strict protocols and accreditations (NFDAP 2023). Operational plans must be approved by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (NFDAP 2023). Detailed planning is required including community engagement and land access agreements from all landholders (NFDAP 2023). Aerial shooting is mainly a more practical option for public land managers however a group of residents or the community may be able to fund together. Aerial shooting of deer has not been used on private property in Victoria to date but in South Australia private property owners have come together over large landscapes, through the assistance of the State government, to very successfully cull large numbers of deer using thermal assisted aerial shooting. If property owners are considering aerial shooting they should check with DEECA first about whether an ATCW is required.
It can also be highly effective to undertake ground shooting on private property at the same time as aerial shooting is being undertaken on neighbouring land. Parks Victoria sometimes undertakes aerial culling on public land which can drive deer onto surrounding properties. Ground shooting can then drive the deer back into the public land so more deer are removed through a collaborative effort. Landowners with property adjoining public land can contact their local Parks Victoria office to find out more information.
Pest Smart has more information on aerial shooting: National Standard Operating Procedure: Aerial shooting of feral and wild deer – PestSmart
Commercial harvesters are an opportunity for landowners to engage professional shooters at no cost or even a small return and may be useful in reducing large numbers of deer initially.
Commercial harvesting is useful for reducing large numbers of deer until numbers are too low for this to be viable (Image 28). Other options such as professional shooters, landowners or volunteers can then take over the management of lower numbers of deer (NFDAP 2023). Commercial operators must follow Standard Operating Procedures and National Animal Welfare Codes of Practice e.g. Code of Practice for the Effective and Humane Management of Feral and Wild Deer. Some deer harvesters pay landowners a price per kg for the deer harvested on their property.
Commercial harvesters have a network of registered, professional harvesters that can assist landowners to reduce deer numbers on their property The commercial harvesting resources in the Information Resources section provides contact details of some and will be updated with details of more game harvesters as they become available.
Deer trapping is being trialled in different states in Australia for use in urban areas where shooting is not possible (NFDAP 2023) or where large numbers of deer congregate in one area (Image 29). It is not regularly used or a preferred method at this stage. The goals is to trap and kill deer in a controlled environment. Traps would range in size from whole paddocks to a several square metres (NFDAP 2023). The options being tested include purpose built or purchased and operated with the use of trap doors which are triggered either remotely (mobile phone), through trip wires or the opening may be a one way ramp (NFDAP 2023). The traps must provide shelter, food and water for trapped deer and must be checked daily (NFDAP 2023). Trapping is likely to be more effective with smaller herding animals such as Fallow Deer as greater numbers may be trapped and shot. A large trapped Sambar deer however can destroy temporary trapping fences.
The use of confinement traps (any trap that confines the whole body of one or more animals e.g. cage, bag, yard, container) is regulated under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019 which specify what type of trap can be used, the conditions of use and where they can be used.
- A confinement trap can only be used by the landowner or occupier of the land and must minimise harm to the target species and minimise the risk of catching non target species.
- If sufficient food and water is provided, the trapped animal must not be left trapped for more than 48 hours.
- In all other cases the trapped animal must not be left trapped for more than 24 hours. The trapped target animal must be humanely destroyed as soon as is reasonably possible.
The use of traps on private property is not covered by the deer unprotection order on private property and would require an ATCW, and if trapping in a public place then a public place permit may be required to shoot the feral deer, more information about ATCW and public place permits is provided in the Legislation section.
PestSmart has more information in trapping deer: National Standard Operating Procedure: Trapping of feral and wild deer – PestSmart
Non-lethal control methods
Exclusion Fencing (electric or conventional)
Fencing is the most effective non-lethal way of controlling deer damage (HWS 2023) but it needs to be designed to withstand the impacts of feral deer. Feral deer easily breach traditional standard fencing (Image 30)
Fencing may be used to exclude deer from small or large areas where shooting or trapping may not be effective or feasible (NFDAP 2023). Fencing can also be used to protect high biodiversity values, revegetation areas including individual trees or priority crops or pasture paddocks (Images 31 to 34). Fencing can reduce the movement of feral deer in certain areas or direct them into a trap (NFDAP 2023).
Exclusion fencing can be expensive (depending on the area required to be fenced) (NFDAP 2023). Conventional fencing (Ringlock) needs to be at least 2 m high and include strong posts and mesh pegged to the ground, strain wires to keep fence taught, and possibly an overhang at the top to prevent deer from pushing under the fence or jumping or pushing over the fence (NFDAP 2023).
Technology and innovation in permanent electric fencing has developed markedly in recent years. Animals have always respected electricity and it changes their behaviour markedly through a memorable shock. The electromagnetic field produced off a high performing plain wire electric exclusion fence controls many invasive species, deer included.
Recent developments in electric fencing makes it a cheaper option than conventional fencing and is easy to install and can be retrospectively fitted to existing standard farm fencing through leaning offsets or outriggers. The latest electric fencing is proving to be a very effective method of excluding deer .
Deer and native herbivores (e.g. wombats) tend to push under conventional fencing and create tunnels which need to be closed off. Animal tunnelling can be greatly reduced and restricted with a combination of earth and electrified wires (return earth system) starting at 100mm above the ground (depending on ground contour). Note, electric fencing can short out, creating the opportunity for a breach. The intelligence of energisers with WiFi Gateway capability (3G/4G and now proven satellite connectivity) will instantly alert a change in fence performance to a mobile phone.
A well-constructed permanent electric fence, appropriately powered by a high performing energiser, well earthed, generating an electromagnetic field creates an exceptional physical and phycological (memorable) barrier to all deer.
Both conventional and electric fencing can be breached by falling trees/tree branches or stock. Both types of fencing require regular and proactive maintenance to be effective. 24/7 remote monitoring assists this proactive maintenance.
Removal of water sources
Deer require good access to water. Artificial water sources such as dams increase suitable habitat for deer supporting an increase in their numbers. Fencing off dams and limiting access to water troughs e.g. only fill water troughs when stock are in a paddock, will reduce suitable habitat on a property and assist with reducing deer numbers.
Removal of grazing resources
Mitta Valley Landcare website in 2018 reported that one local property owner found that hard grazing of paddocks within 3 km of bushlines reduced the number of deer entering the property. Another nearby property that was grazed to within 2 km of the bushline still recorded a large number of deer. High stocking rates tend to exclude herbivores including deer as it limits their access to high quality pasture.
Trials are being undertaken for the use of deer aggregators which are feeders to draw deer to a suitable location for ground shooting (NFDAP 2023) (Image 28). This could be useful to attract deer out of inaccessible areas, and peri-urban areas where shooting is difficult or not an option. More information can be found at Feral deer aggregator
Deterrents can be used to temporarily reduce deer numbers in an area by reducing a sense of safety. Deer however do become used to many repetitive deterrents. Deterrents include: Noise from gunshots, hunting hounds, bird scaring cannons, human presence. Check with local Council to see if there are restrictions on the use of deterrents such as bird scaring cannons.
There is a trial using movement activated human voices to deter deer in Tasmania and preliminary results look like it may be effective for small areas e.g. gardens, orchards, vineyards to support larger scale shooting.
Small flashing lights are also being used to deter feral deer from crossing roads in high risk areas.
Traffic deterrents have been installed at Harrietville and Mansfield by DEECA in an effort to reduce vehicle collisions.
Some Councils permit thinning of specific plant species such as Burgan without a permit. Thinning dense thickets of these species reduces harbour and can discourage deer. Landowners would need to check with their local Council to see if they need a permit to remove native vegetation before undertaking thinning of species such as Burgan.
Feral deer can have a major impact on biodiversity restoration projects. Feral deer browse on growing trees, break off branches, rub stems causing ring barking and long term damage and push plants over. Landcare Groups, tree planting organisations such as Greening Australia and landowners are having to introduce more robust protection for trees adding expense and time to the project.
Additional protection may include:
Tall tree guards
Tree guards provide protection of individual plants as they become established. They are used in their thousands by groups such as landcare and landowners as part of revegetation programs. However, where feral deer are present, the standard 60 cm or lower guards are not sufficient to protect the planting from deer browsing and additional investment is needed into higher and more robust tree guards where fencing is not practical.
Tree guard suppliers have responded and provide a range of options where large animal browsing occurs. Some suppliers provide 1.2 metre high guards in either corflute or light wire. These can be effective to give trees and shrubs a good start but deer will still browse above 1.2 metres and may need extensions.
There are also a number of products on the market that provide direct trunk protection for larger established trees in gardens.
Some examples of products and suppliers of large sturdy tree guards suitable for revegetation projects include:
Arborgreen (now amalgamated with Suregrow)
Maxi Beast Tree Guard is 120 cm high and 30 cm wide. A corflute guard, it comes equipped with flaps for pinning and extra height and thickness for added plant protection from large animal browsing. They can be found at maxibeast-guard
Mallee mesh kangaroo guard 120 cm high x 46cm diameter. A wire mesh guard with extra height and wire gauge for added plant protection from large animal browsing. Thye can be found at: Mallee Mesh tree guard
Murray Welded mesh sheets 1.76 cm high x 240 cm long. They can be found at mesh tree guards.
For smaller areas it may be more efficient to put trees into fenced plots with small guards. In this case standard height light fencing has been shown to suffice if the fence is not creating a barrier to deer movements.
Some species are more susceptible to browsing and rubbing than others and we are learning more about this through experience.
The Upper Ovens Valley Landcare Group has found that Acacia melanoxylon (Blackwood) and Eucalyptus camaldulensis (Red gum) are particularly targeted by deer but all species can suffer.
The Middle Yarra Landcare Group has found good results with planting the following species that are not favoured by feral deer:
- Goodenia ovata
- Sigesbeckia orientalis
- Acacia paradoxa
- Leptospermum continentale
- Senecio quadridentatus
- Oleria lirata
- Lomandra longifolia
- Solanum aviculare
- Poa ensiformis
Dense planting of Poa species appears to discourage deer from attacking trees within.
Prickly tough plants such as Bursaria Spinosa (Blackthorn) and Melicytus dentatus (Tree Violet) appear to resist deer.
Additional information on deer control methods is available at websites listed in the Information resources section.