Managing deer on land that is keepered for a gamebird shoot requires co-operation from both parties. Rod Greenwood offers advice on overcoming common problems that arise
Hopefully all your census work will have been done for the deer species and numbers on your piece of ground, or ‘permission’ (a word that I struggle to use or like). However imprecise your methods, given the nature of dealing with wild and possibly herding animals, you will at least know the minimum number of deer that were seen at that time and you can conjure up a cull plan.
March is the time of year many choose to do their census work. Generally, the vegetation is low, so sightings are easier, and disturbance by other factors has reduced so the deer are calmer. When looking at the parameters that impact a deer management plan and cull, the aims and objectives of the landowners must be considered, and these are often multi-faceted.
If you are unlucky, the estate may well have a shoot on it too. If this is a lowland wild bird shoot, the impact for you as a deer manager is likely to be reasonably low, as the number of shoot days will be restricted by the annual increment being only slight, thereby allowing for a shootable surplus. If, however, it is more commercial or the owner is a keen shot they may be shooting partridge from the beginning of September, thereby restricting access to some areas. These restricted areas will, of course, have interesting and suitable cover for deer to use too.
Some keepers can get very jumpy about their poults and drives being disturbed, but, in my view, a few moderated full-bore rifle shots can’t be any worse than tractors cultivating nearby or even someone cracking a flag and dogging-in areas.
It’s understandable that repeated disturbance is undesirable, but the removal of a roe buck or doe from a partridge drive will certainly decrease hopper damage and wheat loss as well as the potential of unwanted flushes on the shoot days themselves.
Fallow deer, or worse a herd of fallow, can wreak havoc and are certainly the vandals of the deer world, rolling feeders about to get at the wheat. And deer become even more partial to a hopper raid if you’ve spiced your feed with hold-fast additives in an attempt to keep your poults and birds around drives!
All the luscious growth of tall and edible game crops will also impede one seeing, and therefore having the opportunity to cull, deer throughout the shooting season. Depending on the extent and
number of days you’re shooting, the deer might well move to the less disturbed areas thereby offering a shot. Or, they will leave the estate entirely only to return when it quietens down, leaving only two months to make the cull. If this is the case, team culls with multiple rifles out on consecutive evenings or mornings can be productive. If you can combine these with culls taking place on neighbouring ground, particularly for fallow deer, even greater results can be had. The Deer Initiative Best
Practice Guides have some very helpful chapters about how to successfully count and cull in a cooperative way.
Recent figures show that a shoot with only a moderate number of days, 10 or so, could cause the man hours per deer shot to rise to eight, which is considerable and not very efficient. Once the shooting season is over, there are fewer people moving around the estate in February/March time and it is noticeably easier to spy and shoot the deer, the average man hours dropping to a more respectable two per animal.
If the opportunity arises to better the desired cull it should be taken as there will always be immigration onto an estate that has warm woods, excess cover and good feed for gamebirds. This can also be thought of as the ‘vacuum effect’ – as you take individuals from the centre (like sucking air out), others will be drawn (or ‘sucked’) in.
Of course, muntjac can be a nuisance in drives and along feed rides but due to their fecundity and non-native standing, the season for culling them is all year. I would, however, be wary of culling a thin-looking mature doe as there may be a chance you will orphan her offspring which may have been left in undergrowth nearby.
Thermal imagers can be very useful in helping you to set your cull, either through night counts or by day. You can try scanning the deer’s preferred habitats as their heat signature will give them away.
A visual count of roe deer by yourself, combined with known daily sightings as you move about the ground, will probably give a number approximating to 30% of your population. This number can be improved by having multiple counters at prominent points.
You do need good teams who have experience of different species to help count and then cull your deer. It’s great if you can keep it all in-house and have the staff, time and enthusiasm to use the data and time well, reducing the deer numbers and meeting the owner’s aims and objectives too.
While at college, our students will have the opportunity to hone their ID skills as well as being able to partake in counts on a number of estates, all of which helps them to become competent gamekeepers and deer managers.
If your permission is also home to a game shoot, carrying out the winter cull may not be simple
Pheasant feed hoppers can attract the local deer population
Fallow can be very disruptive on a game shoot
Culling during the game shooting season can reduce the appearance of deer on shoot days