Fox scalps collected under a Victorian fox bounty have been declining in recent years, but the hunt goes on.
Since 2011, over half a million fox scalps have been collected in Victoria as part of Agriculture Victoria’s fox bounty program.
Warning: this story contains graphic images
Average annual fox scalp collections ran at approximately 105,000 each year until 2016-2017, when the numbers took a sharp dive to just 72,000, according to figures from Agriculture Victoria.
Victoria is the only state in Australia to have its own fox bounty program.
Agriculture Victoria Biosecurity Manager John Matthews said he had noticed the number of fox scalps collected in recent years were significantly lower than the long-term average.
“All of the collections have been trending downward,” he said.
Mr Matthews said larger collection centres, surrounded by larger human populations and more hunting effort, would bring in greater numbers of foxes.
“At the moment Ballarat leads the race, with about 80,500 whole fox scalps presented for reward between 2011 and 2017. Bendigo is a close second at approximately 73,000, and Hamilton and Horsham are next in line with around 53,000 and 55,000,” he said.
Bendigo fox bounty numbers on the decline
In central Victoria, Bendigo’s fox bounty figures reflect the overall state decline, with 7,540 fox scalps collected by 137 people in 2016-2017.
It is a far cry from the city’s bounty figures from 2015-2016, when 185 people collected 11,047 fox scalps, according to figures from Agriculture Victoria.
The numbers might have fallen, but on collection day there is still a line of hunters waiting to deposit their bounty of fox scalps to Agriculture Victoria staff at the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in Bendigo.
Once a month from March until October, fox and wild dog scalps are collected by Agriculture Victoria in Bendigo, one of 22 collection centres around the state.
If scalped correctly, retaining the nose and ears, hunters can pocket $10 per fox scalp.
Agriculture Victoria staff are on standby to inspect each hunter’s bounty and tally the total number of scalps.
Hunters tell their stories
At the collection centre one man carries his catch in an eksy. Another wheels it in on his walking frame. Most tote blood-streaked plastic bags.
Jeremy Preece, the man carrying the esky of fox scalps, said he did not go hunting often enough, so his esky helps keep the smell down.
“Probably once every three months I go away. It’s very hard to find the time at the minute,” Mr Preece said.
Also in line to deposit his bounty was Norman Bromley who said he had been hunting foxes for years. He said his busiest time was lambing season.
To keep costs down, Mr Bromley said it was about getting more bang for your buck — or more fox for your bullet.
“If you just keep shooting the bitches and they’re full of pups, well, you get five in one shot.”
Mr Bromley counted his bounty of 11 fox scalps one by one and threw them into a collection bin.
He said he had noticed the foxes were getting scrawnier.
“They’re getting a bit lean now, everyone’s on to them.”
On July 24, Mr Bromley, along with 16 other people, deposited a total of 269 fox scalps at the Bendigo collection booth.
Hunting conditions difficult
Agriculture Victoria staff have their own ideas why numbers are down,
Mr Matthews said the latest dip in fox scalp collection numbers in Bendigo may have been because a busy sowing season had stopped farmers from hunting and a long wet spring made hunting conditions difficult.
“For a start, we had difficult issues with access for hunters getting on to properties to hunt, and then the majority of landholders have been flat out either harvesting or reaping the rewards of a fantastic harvest last year,” Mr Matthews said.
As for the fluctuations in fox scalps being presented, Mr Matthews said it was hard to read too much into the figures in the short term.
“We have a number of hunters that hunt regularly and submit to the bounty almost monthly, and we have other groups that will hunt pretty well all year, but stockpile the acceptable body parts and present them at a time that’s convenient to themselves,” he said
At the fox scalp collection booth in Bendigo, hunter Geoffrey Story had another theory to explain the low fox scalp numbers.
“Very scarce. This time last year we shot 120. We shot 18 this year in the same areas we’ve been shooting for 25 years, so they’re definitely down in numbers. They are very hard to find.
“There’s more people chasing them now than ever before and that’s what is slowing them down.
“Plus they’re shooting them early. Farmers, young lads and that are shooting in the early summer after cropping and that sort of thing.
“They’re really reducing the numbers very quickly,” Mr Story said.