Record numbers of wild deer were shot under licence in the 2021/2022 season, according to the latest figures released by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, with the bulk of deer taken out in just six counties.
The figures were released to the Irish Deer Commission (IDC). The IDC, a wild deer management organisation made up of hunters and conservationists, says the figures do not take into account the increase in illegal hunting or poaching and believes this may account for thousands more deer killed.
There is no census of deer and neither is there any proper estimate of deer poaching, it said.
More than 55,000 deer were shot under license in the 12 months to the end of February 2022 , a record number, which is almost a quarter more than the previous record in the 2019 season, before the pandemic.
The number of licenses issued in 2022 at 6,232 was also well up on the just-under 5,400 issued in 2021. Most of the deer were culled during the open season, which runs from September to the end of February.
More females (26,261) than males were shot in line with best practice, and the bulk of those involved fallow and sika deer, followed by smaller numbers of red.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service issued almost 1,000 permits to farmers and landowners under Section 42 of the Wildlife Acts to shoot troublesome deer out of season, according to the figures.
The average number of deer taken out by hunters has remained at between six and eight since the 1990s - in 1995, just 4,500 deer were culled. Most deer shot are eaten by hunters or exported to the UK.
While the number of deer culled has increased, Ireland has not developed a commercial venison industry, the IDC said.
Some 70 per cent of the deer shot under licence involved the six counties of Wicklow, (15,280) followed by Tipperary (4,770) Waterford (3,679) Galway (3,618) Kerry (2,568) and Cork (2,492).
The IDC says it is increasingly worried about anti-deer sentiment and says the fact that 200,000 deer have been taken out by licensed hunters in the past five years is not fully appreciated.
“The management of wild deer has become an increasingly emotive topic with polarized views from those in farming, forestry, rewilding, tourism, photographers, hunting and conservationists,” the IDC said in a statement.