Choose the right tool to get on top of feral deer

Selecting the right tools to manage feral deer has never been more important, as deer numbers continue to explode in Australia, causing major impacts to the nation’s natural environments and agricultural production.

Feral deer numbers have increased from the tens of thousands in the 1980s to between 1-2 million in the past few years. In 2021, feral deer were estimated to cost the Australian economy $91.3 million, through habitat destruction due to eating and trampling native plants, disruption to agricultural production by eating pasture and crops, damaging fences and carrying diseases that can be transmitted to livestock.

In many parts of Australia, governments are now faced with the choice of having either vibrant and productive primary industries with healthy natural bushland, or allowing ever-increasing populations of feral deer to degrade our environment and erode the profits of primary producers.

Dr Annelise Wiebkin, the National Deer Management Coordinator at the SA Department of Primary Industries and Regions, said choosing the right tool and using it correctly was critical for landholders to get on top of the rising numbers of feral deer.

“There are tools available to help landholders deal with feral deer, such as aerial culling, ground culling by commercial harvesters or experts, exclusion fencing and trapping. It’s important that landholders explore the features and benefits of each option to determine which is best for their specific situation and management goals,” said Dr Wiebkin.

feral deer
Growing numbers of feral deer in the Australian landscape destroy native habitat, disrupt agricultural production and carry disease that can be transmitted to livestock.


“A great place to start is PestSmart, an online platform that guides landholders on the selection of appropriate deer culling tools. In particular, the Glovebox Guide to Managing Feral Deer can help landholders develop management strategies to cull feral deer.”

Dr Wiebkin noted one tool that is becoming increasingly used is aerial culling.

“Aerial culling can quickly knock down large numbers of pest animals like deer over large areas, before they can breed back up. It is conducted by highly skilled experts, following strict protocols to ensure effective and humane outcomes,” said Dr Wiebkin.

The safety, humaneness and effectiveness of aerial culling was the topic of a national workshop in Canberra on 20-21 February attended by 80 experts from across Australia.

Dr Wiebkin said that workshops like this help to maintain the high standards of aerial culling operations for all large vertebrate pests.

“The workshop also highlighted how emerging technologies, such thermal cameras, are helping operators remove more feral deer, including from under tree canopies that the human eye cannot see.

“It is important that whatever tool is used, it removes enough feral deer each year, and is repeated until land managers deem they can supress the remaining impacts. While aerial culling may have high costs to quickly knock down problem populations, it can be cost effective for land managers in the long run.

“Ground culling is more time consuming than aerial culling and is suited for small areas, such as individual properties, where small numbers of deer need to be removed,” said Dr Wiebkin.

Andreas Glanznig, CEO, Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, said that choosing the right tool or tools to manage feral deer for their situation is important to ensure they work and are cost-effective.

“Without careful consideration of whether the tool they’ve chosen is appropriate for their situation, landholders could see feral deer populations continue to grow,” said Mr Glanznig.

For more information on managing feral deer, visit

Glovebox Guide for Managing Feral Deer: Practical resource designed to assist Australian land managers (farmers, public land managers and Indigenous groups) to manage the impacts of feral deer.

Annual Costs of Feral Deer in Australia report: Provides an estimate of the annual economic impact of feral deer in Australia in 2021, looking at the spread of feral deer and its impact on agriculture and the environment (see Fast Facts below).

Using Exclusion Fencing to Manage Feral Deer Impacts in Australia report: Distils key learnings for people interested in using exclusion fencing to reduce the impacts of wild deer in Australia.

National Feral Deer Action Plan: The plan was released in August 2023 and aims to support farmers, communities, organisations, and government agencies in halting the spread and impacts of feral deer.

Visit the PestSmart Feral Deer Toolkit for more information on feral deer, their impacts and management.

Fast Facts: The Basics
How many species of feral deer are widespread in Australia?
Six species of feral deer have become widespread in Australia.

What is the population size of feral deer in Australia?
The likely national population size of feral deer has been reported in the draft National Feral Deer Action Plan (Government of South Australia) at between 1 and 2 million.

The Economic Impacts of Feral Deer
The estimated overall economic impact of feral deer in 2021 was about $91.3 million. This estimate was comprised of management costs (including fencing, trapping and shooting), agricultural production losses associated with feral deer feeding, damage and competition, and the costs of collisions with trains and motor vehicles.

Agricultural losses
The estimated cost of agricultural losses from feral deer in 2021 was estimated at about $69.1 million.

Public expenditure
The estimated expenditure by Governments culling of feral deer in 2021 was estimated at about $17.8 million.

Motor vehicle impacts
The estimated cost of motor vehicle impacts from feral deer in 2021 was estimated at about $3.3 million.

Train impacts
The estimated cost of train collisions with feral deer in 2021 was estimated at $1.2 million.