Charles Smith-Jones tells you how to prepare yourself to pass your DSC1 and face the deer stalking certificate assessments with confidence

The Deer Stalking Certificate has just reached a major milestone with the award of the 20,000th certificate this year. DSC1, nationally recognised as the cornerstone of deerstalker training, is administered by Deer management Qualifications (DMQ), which oversees the award through a number of approved assessment centres.

If you are not yet one of these successful candidates, there couldn’t be a better time to consider joining them. you don’t even have to follow a course before taking the assessments — though this certainly helps — as other training aids are helpful, but nothing beats having an experienced teacher who can answer questions as they occur to you. You’ll also be surrounded by other candidates eager to learn, and the collective buzz and craic is a great encouragement.

Though it’s true that the ultimate aim of undertaking the DSC1 is attaining a certificate, you’ll get much more out of it. one of the great joys of being involved with deer is that there is always something new to learn, no matter how long you’ve been stalking.

However you plan to tackle the deer stalking certificate assessments, do prepare beforehand.

How is DSC1 assessed?

  1. VISUAL — Identify at least 16 out of 20 slides of deer correctly, naming species and sex.
  2. WRITTEN — Correctly answer at least 40 out of 50 multiple-choice questions covering deer biology and ecology, the law, stalking and taking the shot.
  3. GAME MEAT HYGIENE — Correctly answer at least 32 out of 40 multiple choice questions covering deer health, carcase inspection and lardering. If you already hold an award in game meat hygiene recognised by the Food Standards Agency, you may not need to take this assessment — your assessment centre can advise you on this.
  4. SAFETY — Answer 10 oral questions and practical tasks based around a simulated stalking environment. All have to be answered correctly.
  5. SHOOTING — Place three shots inside a 4in circle on a zeroing target, then a total of six shots into the kill zone of a deer target from 100m (prone), 70m (sitting or kneeling), and 40m (standing), as shown below. Three attempts are permitted at each target. You can use any aids to shooting that you would normally have available to you in the field, such as bipods, sticks or a rucksack, as a support.

Before the course
Get hold of one of the excellent training manuals available, and read it through carefully — it will contain all the information that you need. Furthermore, all of the questions you might be faced with are openly available in either the training manuals or on the DMQ website. you won’t find the right answers highlighted though — you’ll need to search for them, and of course learn more in the process.

Another useful learning aid is the British Deer Society’s (BDS) ultimate Deer Data CD. this is an interactive complete training package that not only contains the BDS DSC1 manual, but is also packed with photographs, quizzes, deer recognition tests, shooting skills instruction and more. if you don’t have the time to attend a full course, this could be just the alternative you need.

Know your deer
There are five separate assessments, ranging from theory to practical shooting and safety, and as long as you prepare yourself properly for them, it doesn’t really matter if you have no great experience of deer. For the visual assessment, all you need to do is identify the six British deer by species and sex. Study pictures and DVDs, and note the recognition features that will enable you to tell them apart. One useful tip is to pay special attention to the rump markings and length of tail (or the lack of it, in the case of roe).

You’ll be shown a set of 20 slides from which you must identify the deer and whether it is male or female — you only need to get 16 right to pass. all of the deer pictured will be typical specimens, and there are no trick images.

roe deer

The written and game meat hygiene papers are also straightforward, and all of the questions are drawn from the question banks that you can consult when revising. They are multiple choice,
offering four possible answers from which you must select the correct one. often you can eliminate the wrong options quite easily, so even guesses can be educated ones.

You only need to get 80 per cent of the answers right to pass. Make sure that you understand any question properly before you answer it. Is it asking about open or close seasons? Or legal rather than illegal calibres for shooting deer, for example? Before you hand your paper in, take a few minutes to check it through, just in case you’ve made an obvious mistake. And if you really don’t know the answer to a question, have a go at it anyway; don’t leave it blank!

On the rifle range
Even if you have never fired a full-bore rifle before, don’t be concerned. Your instructor can give you all the coaching and help you need to ensure that you are shooting straight; only when the actual assessment begins must he step back. Up to that point, take your time, and once you are placing three shots inside the 4in circle of the zeroing target, declare that you are ready to start the test. Too many people chase groups of shots around the paper trying to place them dead centre, succeeding only in winding themselves up and overheating barrels in a search for absolute perfection. You get three attempts on both the zeroing and deer targets, so if the first goes wrong, remember you have two more in reserve.

Having passed the 4in circle part of the shooting assessment, all you need to do now is put six shots into the larger kill area of the deer target from varying ranges and positions. Before the shoot, examine the target and note where the centre of that area is so that you know your point of aim. Experienced deerstalkers often put themselves at a disadvantage by aiming a bit low and back, as if going for a heart shot; on the target, your point of aim is up the centre of the foreleg and halfway up the body.

When shooting from standing, kneeling or sitting, make sure that you are comfortable. Practising beforehand with shooting sticks and an air rifle or rimfire can really pay off. And if your position does not feel right, adjust it — it may mean that centimetre difference between being inside or outside the line.

The safety assessment
Once again, you have prior access to all 24 of the questions that you might be asked for the safety assessment, so revise them. Your verbal assessor will be on your side and will encourage you if you are facing a temporary mental blank. Of the practical tasks, you know that one will definitely involve crossing an obstacle either alone or with a friend present, so practise the procedures beforehand, and stop and think if you are unsure of what to do next. Remember, this assessment is all about safety.

Rifle shooting

You’ll also be faced by cut-out deer targets that you will have to declare as safe or unsafe shots. If you have a clear view of the target, with a good visible backstop of soft earth behind it to receive the bullet, there’s a good chance that it’s a safe option. Beware of limited visibility, no backstop, ricochet hazards or the target area of the deer being obscured by vegetation — you want a clear chest shot.

If at first you don’t succeed…
Hopefully it’s all gone well, but if you haven’t passed all of the assessments first time it’s not the end of the world. You have three years from registration to complete the DSC1, and your assessment
centre will provide you with a referral letter that you can take to any other assessment centre to complete the missing elements.

No matter whether you’re an absolute beginner or an experienced deerstalker, the DSC1 has something in it for you, so if you’ve not completed it yet, it’s worth considering. On top of getting a great sense of achievement, I can guarantee that you’ll learn a lot and become a better stalker.

TOP TIPS:

  • DO prepare yourself — revise fully beforehand, even if you are attending a formal course. Read through your training manual, and go through the questions with other candidates or a friend.
  • DO tell the assessment centre in advance if you have any special needs such as mobility or learning support. For example, you are allowed a reader to help you to understand questions properly.
  • DO get hold of a deer identification DVD (such as the one pictured) and learn the visual differences between the species.
  • DO calm down! If you don’t pass an assessment on the day, you can resit it later.
  • DO get the assessor to familiarise you with the assessment centre rifle if you will be using it for the shooting or safety assessments on the day.
  • DO always be muzzle aware and, if in doubt during a practical safety assessment, take out the bolt and check that the bore is clear.
  • DO practise shooting from sticks with an air rifle or rimfire. Pay special attention to finding a sitting or kneeling position that best suits your build.
  • DO enjoy yourself — you’re taking your DSC1 because you enjoy deerstalking!
  • DON’T rush yourself. There are no time limits on any of the assessments.
  • DON’T accept a rifle from anyone without asking them to prove that it’s unloaded first.
  • DON’T turn up with a brand-new rifle set-up that you have not used before. The assessment centre will be able to provide a proven accurate rifle and ammunition combination on request.