Illegal deer poaching has residents of north-east Victoria raise safety concerns.
As deer hunting gains popularity across Victoria we are seeing more poaching incidents being reported. Most these incidents are from road running spot lighters that have total disregard for the neighbouring properties.
Illegal hunting will continue to close the door for LAFO as property owners get sick of dealing with problems the spotlighters cause. I have been knocked back many times looking for private access due to stock being shot from the road under the spotlight.
The ABC reported about 100 residents from the King Valley area attended a public forum at Whitfield on Monday night, as concerns rise over the number of illegal hunters in their community.
King Valley residents have told authorities that illegal hunters — many who travel to the region from across the state — were flouting hunting laws nightly, and were putting livestock and human lives at risk, while leaving behind a trail of bloody, headless carcasses near roads and homes.
It is an offence to hunt deer at night, hunt deer with artificial lights, carry a loaded firearm in vehicles, and possess or discharge a loaded firearm on or across a public thoroughfare.
Myrrhee resident, Connie Northey, said residents had to deal with poachers who operated illegally near their properties at night, when deer were most active.
"It's making people scared to be living out here," she said.
"We've had quite a bit of trouble at our place, and we have deer shooters along the road all the time, spotlighting our house, spotlighting into the paddocks.
"One of our kids was [caught in a spotlight] up in the paddock one night."
Ms Northey said her husband had also once unexpectedly come across five male poachers on his property.
Rose River, about a 30 minute drive into isolated bushland from Whitfield, has become a hotspot for illegal hunting.
In June, Wangaratta and Whitfield police, along with the Game Management Authority, caught five men from the western Melbourne area allegedly hunting illegally in the area.
Rose River resident, Thomas Moritz, said there were many more who ventured out into the area and were causing havoc.
"We're regularly getting deer poachers going through our back paddocks, cutting fences, gates, and you find dead deer with their heads chopped off and everything," he said.
"Nobody's been hurt yet, but it won't be long most probably.
"Every time we see spot lighters on the road, we have to turn the lights on in the house just to make sure they go away or they don't shoot at us."
Despite the regular activity, Mr Moritz said he lived too remote for the poachers to be caught.
"Upper Rose River is a hotspot because it's so far away from the next police station, Mr Moritz said.
"By the time we ring police, they do the best they can, but they're just too far away."
Monitoring illegal poachers
There are 36,000 licenced deer hunters in Victoria, with only five Game Management Authority enforcement officers across the state.
Two officers operate in north east Victoria where the majority of deer are culled annually.
Hunters and landholders have called for revenue from their hunting licences to be used to employ more compliance officers to help reduce illegal hunting activity.
With Whitfield only having a police officer instated in the town last year, Victoria Police and the Game Management Authority have had to forge a strong partnership, along with the community, to help tackle the problem in the remote area.
"There is a small group of rogue poachers who are putting lives and properties at risk, and the local community and police won't tolerate it," said Whitfield's sole police officer, Senior Constable Paul Guy.
Residents have been encouraged to report illegal hunting activities through triple-0 to capture data, so resources could potentially be re-directed to the region.
Responsible hunters losing out
King Valley hunters are concerned that those illegally operating in the area were making it more difficult for responsible hunters.
Adrian Younger, who is a land owner, firearms instructor, and hunter, said he had found illegal poachers on his property.
The concerns are shared by many in the area, who fear that those shooting in unfamiliar terrain in the dark could hit vital infrastructure, livestock, or even homes and humans — with some bullets capable of travelling kilometres in distance.
Mr Younger said the more poachers disobeyed the law, the more difficult it would become for game hunters to legally access private property through the landowners' permission.