Sika deer is the species creating a deer population explosion, the Wild Deer Association of Ireland (WDAI) has highlighted.

The association’s PRO Ger O’Brien told the Irish Farmers Journal that the Sika deer, first introduced to Ireland in 1860, should be concentrated on if Ireland’s deer population is to be controlled.

“[Sika deer] are the most destructive when it comes to forestry and farmland and they’re the ones that are getting blamed for TB.

“There’s a cull needed throughout but concentrating on the Sika is probably the big thing,” he said, adding that this would also protect the integrity of the native red deer population.

“A lot of it is due to the problems we had with Covid-19. The venison market collapsed and a lot of deer weren’t taken out when they should have been so we do need to do something now,” he explained.


O’Brien said that there is a “very big problem” occurring where professional hunting ‘outfitters’ are buying up all the deer shooting rights, particularly in Wicklow.

“It’s almost impossible then for the ordinary guy to get into Wicklow now to shoot anything because all the rights for hunting are owned by commercial operators.

“They’re bringing in tourists. It’s way bigger than anyone seems to realise. It’s growing and growing and growing. These tourists were all coming from Europe but now the American market has been opened up to here.

“You can go over to Nevada and look at drone footage of Sika deer in Wicklow and you can decide what you want to pick out – ‘I want that one, that one and that one’. And that’s where a lot of the problem is coming from,” he claimed.

O’Brien highlighted that game dealers have these commercial outfitters bringing them deer in September and October but that they never see them then from Christmas on.

“So, that means that they’re not shooting anything.”

Female deer

The biggest contributing factor to a growing deer population are the females, with not enough being shot, O’Brien maintained.

“It’s the small females that are breeding that the hunter won’t shoot because they’re not worth anything. You might get €20 off a game dealer. He’s not going to pull the deer off the mountain for €20. They’re still breeding and they’re still producing animals,” he said.

He said that the Department of Agriculture’s deer forum is proposing that a €30/doe payment is provided to hunters for shooting female deer to make it worthwhile.

Season extension

O’Brien also said that the forum is exploring the option of extending the deer shooting season.

“We don’t want to see [the Sika deer] classed as an invasive species. It’s a problem at the moment that can be solved without going to the extreme as putting them as an invasive species. If that happens, it means you can shoot them day or night, all year round. There’s no proper breeding season.

“It actually contributes to the distribution of deer. It only spreads them, that’s what it does. We’ve proposed that the male season [should start] sooner, the 1 August, and runs on to the end of February, maybe even March at the latest,” he said.

O’Brien added that if you wait until October to shoot male deer, the hormones driven by the rut (breeding season) make for poorer-quality venison.

“That same animal in August, would be a fantastic quality animal,” he said.

O’Brien explained that some on the forum want the female shooting season brought forward to September but that in his view, 1 October is “probably the earliest it can go”.

There are a growing number of 'tourism hunting' outfitters in Ireland, said the Wild Deer Association of Ireland. \ Philip Doyle

“If you’re shooting females too early in the year, their [fawns] are not able to survive on their own. It’s a welfare issue.

“The [fawn] will either starve to death there and then or they’ll struggle into the winter and die over the winter months,” he added.

There needs to be more promotion of venison, said the Wild Deer Association of Ireland. \ Philip Doyle

Venison is now of ‘far higher quality’ than in the past

O’Brien said that the correct handling of venison from shot deer is essential to improve market demand and incentivise hunters.

“Venison is handled and treated a lot better now than it was 20 years ago. It’s a far higher quality now. We train our members how to field dress an animal, how to butcher it,” he said.

However, there is no promotion campaign planned yet for Irish venison, according to Bord Bia. A spokesperson said the deer forum has suggested that there should be a budget allocated to allow Bord Bia to research market opportunities.

“These conversations are at any early stage and will require further discussion and industry commitment,” they said.

Minister for Heritage Malcolm Noonan. \ Claire Nash

‘Deer numbers are too high’

Minister for Heritage Malcolm Noonan, with responsibility for the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), has said that Ireland has a “big job of work to do in terms of deer management”.

“Deer numbers are too high. The recommendations are coming forward from an expert group in the deer management forum and I look forward to seeing those recommendations.

There should be a focus on Sika deer in any deer cull, said the Wild Deer Association of Ireland. \ Philip Doyle

“We have a significant job of work to do to bring our deer population across the country down to a manageable level for forestry, biodiversity and for farming, and for road safety,” he said.