Deer in the Grampians

Daryl Panther

There were 16 people in attendance, including a few who were interested in learning more for the purpose of hunting, not our usual audience but welcome all the same.

Daryl explained his background and how he has farmed Deer in the past and now being a contractor to Parks Vic. helping with the control of feral animals. He continued by describing the different  species of deer found in Victoria.

  • Rusa Deer are found mainly around Sydney and NSW. They have 3 points on each antler. They will breed with Sambar, but as there are only isolated populations of Rusa in Victoria and we don’t have them in the Grampians they are not an issue.
  • Sambar Deer are one of the heaviest species of deer. They are found around Mt Cole, in South Australia and also in the Otways, with a few in the Grampians area. They have 3 points on each antler and a bib around their neck. Samba deer don’t mix with red deer so they tend to occur in different parts of the Park to Reds.
  • Hog Deer are similar to Rusa and Samba but only grow about as big as a lab dog, there are very few around, none in the Grampians. They have established populations mostly in Gippsland.
  • Chital or Axis Deer are found in Queensland around Charters Towers, there are some isolated populations in Victoria, but not within the Grampians.
  • Fallow Deer are grazers rather than browsers. They have distinctive palmate antlers, although when young can look like those of Red deer. There are four colour variations, black, red, white and menil, they all have spots throughout adulthood, unlike others that only exhibit spots as juveniles. They are commonly found around Pomonal, but do occur in other areas of the park.
  • Red deer, along with Fallow, are the most common species found within the park, (although Sambar sightings are expanding).They are a larger animal and have antlers with many points. There is open hunting season on Red and Fallow deer all year round.

Deer have their fawns in December and usually only have one young. The fawns stay with their mothers till April. March, April and May and into June is the rutting season at this time you can call animals in. Daryl demonstrated this mating call. Red deer males look for females while Fallow deer females do the searching. During the rut males hate each other and fight but at other times of the year can be found in bachelor herds. In June males and females congregate into herds.  Come November/December they spread out into the bush while the females have their fawns. The males drop their antlers at this time, possibly to prevent them from injuring the young, but mostly it is a response to nutritional needs. It is easier to move through the bush in leaner times searching for food if you don’t have an anchor either side of your head.

Deer were introduced into Australia 160 years ago and were brought to Longeronong and Hamilton where they were released around the 1860’s in order to have animals to hunt in the future. In 1918 they were declared a protected animal.

About ten years ago a study on the deer in the Grampians estimated there were more than 1100. Since then there have been several severe fires, pushing the deer out to the edges of the park for food and some were shot as a result of this. Numbers did drop, however now that the bush has recovered the animals have come back into the shelter of the Park and it is difficult to get an accurate estimate of numbers without doing an extensive survey.  Some estimates have them around 550 while others say there are over 1100. Some of our group members think this estimate is too low.

There is currently a program with the sporting shooters association to try to reduce their numbers but so far not many have been shot. This is taking place as ecologists have identified a problem with over grazing in the park, and you cannot begin culling native wildlife while there are introduced species grazing the same areas.

After Daryl’s talk we got a chance to examine some skulls and antlers Daryl had brought with him. Those antlers are HEAVY! We then went for a walk behind Brambuk looking for deer sign. We saw a small group of Reds, along with trees they have rubbed on, scats and footprints. Not surprising really as Daryl estimates there are 50 or more resident in Halls Gap. They are safe from hunters, and have well watered gardens and fields of green grass all year round.

Daryl also shared some stories of his work in pest control for Parks Vic. He showed us radio collars for tracking programs and the judas goat program that allows tracking of feral goat herds to enable removal. He is even having to deal with feral pigs not too far from the park as rogue hunters are trying to introduce populations for their own hunting purposes. There is a possibility this is also being done with deer species too.

Editor’s note

This time last year I reported on a presentation to the park Advisory Group by Mike Stevens on the issue of deer in the Park, including the proposal to use the sporting shooters group as had been done in Wilson’s Promontory. You can read it on our website but here is his proposed action list.

  • Control red deer particularly in high priority herb-rich woodland areas.
  • Zero tolerance, opportunistic control of Fallow and samba deer to prevent population establishment.