Deer hunting a fair-game tradition family wants to see continue

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Andrew Winwood tagged his first deer when he was 14 near Ross in Tasmania’s Midlands.

He’s hunted in every season since.

WARNING: This story contains images that people may find distressing.

For Mr Winwood, hunting deer means time spent in the bush with his family.

“As you get older you like the exercise and it forces you to get out of bed before daybreak,” he said.

“The lifestyle is good out in the bush, you’ve got your mates.

“It also gets the kids away from the city … we’ve got four generations hunting.”

Until the end of March it’s open season for stag hunting in Tasmania, which has had fallow deer since 1836.

The area between Kempton, Ouse, Launceston and the East Coast is known as the traditional deer range, but the animals have been sighted elsewhere, including in the World Heritage Area.

While deer numbers are estimated to be at 20,000, there’s a lack of information about their presence and environmental impact.

A parliamentary committee found deer-related issues were managed on an ad-hoc basis and recommended that a census be conducted to understand the wild population and inform management into the future.

A family affair

Natasha Holland has been hunting deer for the past 10 years and was taught by her father.

She’s a member of the Charlton Hunting Club, based in the Midlands, and said there was a growing number of women participating.

“I just love being outdoors,” she said.

“I think deer are such majestic animals, it’s something that sets me free.

“You have a lot of emotions you go through, there’s a lot of adrenalin.”

Her husband prepared the meat and nothing went to waste, she said.

“I’ll hopefully teach my kids one day … I think it’s one of the better things to be doing in the world.”

A pest animal?

Deer hunting is an environmental issue in Tasmania that elicits considerable debate about what the right response is.

The Government cashes in through the licence fee, which is $71 for three deer.

Fines for taking deer without permits are about $650.

Conservationists are in favour of deer culling, arguing the species is a pest that damages the land and should be eradicated.

Former Greens leader Bob Brown has supported helicopter culling and for the animal’s protected status on public land to be lifted.

The parliamentary committee found that deer could cause extensive damage but research on the impact was limited.

Hunters, meanwhile, want deer management to stay regulated.

“To list something as a pest isn’t managing them,” Mr Winwood said.

“Deregulation only adds to the problem.

“All it’s going to do is add another element that farmers and the department have to deal with — illegal hunting and trespass and all the things that comes with it.”

Deer hunting is allowed on public land with permits, and the Government has expanded the available hunting land, including into conservation areas.

But due to bushfires on the Central Plateau, access this season has been restricted.

Mr Winwood said he welcomed the Government’s inclination to open more land to hunters.

“Deer are, supposedly, expanding in Tasmania and we need to control their numbers,” he said.

The Wilderness Society has raised concerns with hunting in national parks and the World Heritage Area and believes recreational hunting is not a strategy to deal with the problem.

A ‘fair chase’

There’s a five-week hunting season for male deer and two different seasons for female deer or antlerless deer.

Farmers and property owners can get permits for crop protection year-round, but hunting female deer during the fawning period is frowned upon.

About 5,000 game licences are sold each season. In 2018, about 2,000 bucks were tagged as well as almost 5,000 antlerless deer.

Mr Winwood said he believed about half the hunters were taking deer for both meat and trophy purposes.

“People want to know where their meat comes from, not just hunters but society everywhere,” he said.

“We know where our meat comes from.

“We utilise every single piece of the deer we harvest.”

Hunting is permitted one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset.

“You can’t go out with a spotlight and take them in a spotlight,” Mr Winwood said.

“It’s a fair chase.

“When you’re a recreational hunter and you’re hunting for meat or a trophy, it’s good to do it under a fair-chase scenario.”

The property on which he hunts has had a game management plan for more than 20 years.

“We don’t just go out and hunt deer because we can, we actually manage deer on this property and it’s a win-win for the farmer as well as the hunters and their families,” he said.

“The only way to control deer is to have regulations and to have recreational hunters out there doing the work.”

The season closes on March 30 and the results of the deer census are expected soon after.

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