At the time of writing, I had just read a news report about a deer in the Plymouth area that was seen running out of a wood, apparently shot in the head with a crossbow bolt. For a brief moment, words failed me – apart from the many and varied expletives that passed through my mind.
I have come across poaching on every single estate that I have stalked on over the years. On one in particular it seemed that the poachers were on the ground more often than I was, and unfortunately the estate was unmotivated to stop it.
Coming across a head, feet and gralloch is one of the more disagreeable parts of the job and probably the only occasion when I might lose my marbles for a second. Finding a carcass with no head is even worse because the animal has been poached for its head alone and the carcass left to rot.
Even more upsetting is that poachers do not consider the season and so does are sometimes poached, leaving newborn kids to die, which is not a quick process. I doubt the poachers understand or care. Their methods are also pretty gruesome: snares, bows, .22s, shotguns and dogs. There is a brutality there that doesn’t bear thinking about.
The letter of the law
Snaring, bow-shooting and running down healthy deer with dogs are illegal practices. The legal and humane shooting of deer, on the other hand, has several perfectly sensible conditions attached to it. Firstly, a deer should be despatched without undue suffering, which means quickly. The legitimate hunter knows and understands this.
Secondly, a deerhunter’s firearms certificate permits only the use of expanding ammunition, which mushrooms once it enters the body. It blows a wider pathway through the main blood vessels of the chest, which ensures that the deer’s blood pressure drops rapidly, making its despatch more humane. If a solid, jacketed bullet was used, the passage through the body would be narrow and, while the deer would die eventually, its suffering would be prolonged.
The Deer Act 1991 also states that the minimum calibre to be used in England and Wales is .240 (in practice this would usually be a .243) for most species. Two exceptions are muntjac and Chinese water deer, for which .220 may be used with an expanding bullet of not less than 50 grain in weight. In England and Wales the weight of the bullet for the larger species is not stipulated. In Scotland, however, a minimum 100-grain bullet must be used for all larger species, while for roe deer, Scotland has the same stipulation as we do for muntjac and Chinese water deer.
The Act also states the required velocity or speed of the bullet, which must be 2,450fps. It also stipulates the necessary energy of the bullet. In Scotland it is 1,750ft/lbs for red deer, fallow and sika, and 1,000ft/lbs for roe. In England we stipulate 1,700ft/lbs for red, fallow, sika and roe, followed by 1,000ft/lbs for muntjac and Chinese water deer.
Using a shotgun is not suitable in my book, although some want the law to be changed in this respect. It used to be allowed but there were more animals injured than despatched cleanly and, except in special circumstances and with the type of shot stipulated, it is not legal to use a shotgun for deer.
A legitimate hunter ensures they have the right equipment to humanely despatch a deer. The bullet makes contact with the quarry at around two-thirds of a ton, which is pretty powerful. The result of a well-placed shot is a dead deer that will have been killed before realising its fatal injury.
The legitimate hunter also considers safe backstops beyond the animal so that the bullet stops after exiting the deer carcass and cannot travel on to do any further damage. They will also only take the shot when safe and a humane kill is possible. If something does go wrong with a shot, the hunter will ensure they find the animal quickly and despatch it to the best of their ability.
Does the poacher consider any of this? It is highly unlikely. Poaching poses a risk to the public and is barbaric for the quarry. There is no place for it in the shooting community. If you know anyone carrying out this type of activity, please report it – anonymously if you feel nervous about it.
Similarly, if you know a game establishment that is handling poached deer, report it because this is also illegal. If you cut off the man paying the money, a poached deer carcass is worthless.
So what happened to the Plymouth deer with a crossbow bolt embedded in its head? I don’t know its fate but, according to reports, the individual who shot it has thankfully been arrested. He was apprehended carrying a loaded bow in a public area. He was 25 years old – certainly old enough to know better, and I hope he gets put away rather than slapped on the wrist.