Police crackdown on illegal deer hunting

Illegal deer hunters are in the line of fire of local police. Picture: ON FILE

By Callum Ludwig

Instances of illegal deer hunting in the Upper Yarra have risen again, prompting local police to call on hunters to make sure they are doing the right thing.

Recent offences have involved hunters who have gone out at night and/or are hunting on private property without permission.

Officer in Charge at the Warburton Police Station Jason Kelly said the laws and regulations surrounding the use of firearms for hunting/pest control exist to keep everyone safe.

“Police have genuine concerns for public safety as well as domestic pets/livestock when firearms are used in contravention of the laws and regulations, such as when they are used on private property without the knowledge or permission of the owners,” he said.

“Legal hunting on public land (i.e. state forest) can only occur during daylight hours with the required licences and permits. It is illegal to possess, carry or use a loaded firearm in a public place – which covers roadways or residential streets,”

“It is also illegal to possess, carry or use a loaded firearm in a non-public place with reckless disregard for safety, these are indictable (arrestable) offences and carry potential jail sentences if found guilty at court.”

Warburton Police responded to a report of a headless deer carcass located on private property on Brett Road, Warburton between 10pm and midnight on Wednesday 26 June, where the offender had killed the deer within 30m of a person’s home and stayed long enough to remove the head before leaving.

Sgt Kelly said recently there have been at least three separate incidents that have occurred in the Warburton township with a few others in outlying areas in the Upper Yarra area.

“We would like to encourage reporting of these incidents to assist with targeting our patrol areas,” he said.

“These incidents invariably occur at night with poor visibility and the use of spotlights and/or thermal scopes are apparent, in the past we have had cases in the Yarra Ranges where a horse and goats have been shot and killed,”

“The proximity to dwellings is also a major concern considering the high powered firearms that are used to hunt deer, there is a very real possibility of a round passing through or ricocheting off the intended target and ending up inside someone’s house which has also occurred in the past.”

In 2023, police from the Yarra Junction and Warburton Police Stations partnered with the Victorian Game Management Authority (GMA) for Operation Thicket, with an increased police presence around hotspots in Don Valley and Powelltown among others, as well as making a push for residents to report more incidents.

GMA members and police were out in force, both in uniform and plain clothes and in marked vehicles or unmarked, targeting offenders.

In August 2022, the Star Mail also reported an incident where Warburton Police responded to reports of gunshots close to homes, checking a vehicle en route where they found a deer carcass, firearm and a spotlight.

The perpetrator did not have a firearms license, with the weapon belonging to a licensed firearm owner, and he was charged with multiple firearms and hunting offences. The licenced firearm owner also faced a charge for allowing an unlicensed person to be in possession of his firearm, also having his firearms licence suspended and the remainder of his firearms and ammunition seized.

Sgt Kelly said this year they have increased their tasking in relation to patrolling known areas as well as appealing for public information about reporting suspicious vehicles.

“We will be engaging with other agencies to work on joint operations in the future, which have been successful in the past,” he said.

“I want to be clear that the majority of licenced firearms owners who take their hobbies seriously do the right thing, this is not directed at them,”

“The people we are targeting are not hunters, they are breaking the law and have no regard for public safety or respect for private property.”

Illegal behaviour in regards to deer hunting includes hunting without a Game Licence, using incorrect firearms, calibres and ammunition, hunting in prohibited areas including hunting on private property without permission, breaching Victoria’s spotlighting laws and regulations and the incorrect use of dogs and dog breeds.

For hunters looking to do the right thing, Sgt Kelly said the local firearms dealerships are an excellent source of information and now run the Firearms Safety Courses.

“The pre-requisites for getting a firearms licence cover the education aspect and there is a plethora of information available online from the Victoria Police website as well as Game Management Authority and other government agencies, not to mention plenty of private providers,” he said.

Night hunting, illegal spotlighting or possessing a firearm in recognised deer habitat can lead to fines in excess of $3,600, equipment seizure, including firearms, spotlights and vehicles, and Game and Firearm Licences cancelled.

Sgt Kelly said residents can take note of any suspicious vehicles and obtain registrations if safe and possible, with a view to making a Crimestoppers report or calling a police station.

“Phone calls to the local non-24 hour police stations now divert to the closest 24-hour station when unmanned,” he said.

“If gunshots are heard or illegal activity involving firearms is suspected call 000.”