deer stalkers

Movement and your outline are what the deer will see, so use the natural topography to hide your approach

Deer stalking is one of the fastest-growing fieldsports but culling deer is also essential to protect forestry and agriculture.

The number of deer in the UK has exploded in recent years and unless deer are controlled they will suffer from starvation and disease.

At the time of writing there over 25,000 Deer Stalking Certificate (DSC) 1 holders in the UK, and more than 86,000 people identified as a deer stalker on the 2013 PACE (Public and Corporate Economic Consultants, based in Cambridge) Report commissioned by BASC.

Thousands of people want to go deer stalking and competition for stalking permissions is fierce in the UK.

Some want to learn to stalk for sport with a guide, others with an area of land to look after need to learn about deer management.

Approaching deer stalking

You need to use your senses in the same way a deer does.

Every stalker knows to stay downwind of his quarry. If you work at an angle to the wind you have more flexibility to change course. Not only that, but walking straight into the wind impairs our senses, so you will stand more chance of finding animals if you work at an angle to the wind.

Beware of swirling winds, such as you find in valleys, woodland or corries. If you are working up a corrie, the wind is not true, and you can find that your quarry has caught your scent and you’ve inadvertently chased them off.

When stalking avoid walking along skylines

There are plenty of stalkers who, once they have planned an outing, insist on going out whatever the weather. However, consider what the deer will be doing. If they cannot rely on their senses to inform them of predators, they will be edgy and nervous, moving from place to place. Disturb them during this weather, and you will make them skittish for a few days. It is far better to wait until the poor weather has improved.

stalking by a loch

When you are stalking in the hills, avoid walking along skylines

Movement and your outline is what deer will see. This means avoiding walking along skylines and using the natural landscape to hide your approach. With woodland stalking, you need to be mindful that deer are often at the edges of woodland, so your approach should reflect that. Walking too close to the woodland’s edge will most likely push the deer deeper into woodland.

If you have spotted a herd or a deer on the hill, the approach is all-important. It can be easy to lose sight of the animals you are stalking as you pick your way around dead ground and the rises and falls of the territory. Pick four reference points to the deer and use them to maintain your bearings. Make sure they are easy to identify from different angles. Remember that there may be more animals between you and your identified quarry, so go slow. A few very experienced stalkers will be able to move the deer out of their path without causing their quarry to flee.

Top tips for deer stalking

Use natural features to mask your approach. A bubbling stream can hide the sound of your footsteps in woodland across dried leaves, for example.

  • Do remember, stalking is not about looking good although you do need the right stalking kit. Wear loose-fitting clothing of the right colour for the area you are stalking in. Tight clothes will make your outline more visible, and remember that certain clothes will go darker in the rain, thus making you very visible.
  • Don’t jump across burns or other obstacles. First and foremost, you will be putting yourself at risk of injury, and the vibrations may well warn deer that there is danger nearby.
  • Wear proper hill-walking boots to protect your ankles and give you grip.
  • When stalking in the uplands, pick four obvious reference points around the deer you are stalking and use these to close in on your quarry.
  • Wear gloves and a peaked cap, particularly at dawn and dusk.
  • Take a stick with you. It’s a third leg.
  • Smoking and eating whilst stalking is not advisable as deer could pick up the scent.

Popular rifles for deer stalking 

The ethics of deer stalking

We are all ambassadors for what we do, and we are under ever-increasing public scrutiny. First on every stalker’s agenda should be the humane treatment of deer.

  • Always take youngsters first: if you shoot the dam first, you risk leaving the youngster to fend for itself. This is especially true of deer that herd, as the herd may run after the first shot, taking the youngster with it.
  • When culling females, be selective. The hind/doe cull is about reducing numbers, but taking the right beasts is equally important.
  • Don’t shoot deer if they are close to the skyline — if they run, you will lose them. The same goes for shooting beasts across a body of water, or anywhere that you may not be able to follow up with ease and in good time.
  • Only shoot matriarchs if there is a good reason to (health or age). They are important for the herd’s well-being, as they are the ones who will lead the herd to good food sources and shelter.
  • Cull early in spring when cover is low. You will be able to spot more deer, thus be more selective, and you will be able to follow up easily.
  • Don’t shoot the first deer you come across, do shoot any deer that don’t look healthy.
  • Don’t shoot at long distances unless you have no other options.
  • Make sure you feel confident of the shot and have a good steady shooting position.

Do I need a qualification for stalking?

Q: I would like to move into deerstalking. I’ve read a lot about this but am confused about whether or not I need to get a qualification — such as the British Deer Society’s Deer Stalking Certificate (DSC) 1 — before I do this.

A: You do not require a formal qualification to go stalking. While many people who stalk have undertaken training and successfully completed the DSC at level 1 and level 2, there are many who stalk who have not.

Mauser M12 Impact

Knowledge of a wide range of topics

Stalking is a complex sport, requiring skills, understanding and knowledge of a wide range of topics, from natural history to the use of  rearms, and from legislation, to health and safety to butchery, among many others.

How to get a firearms licence 

Core skills and knowledge

On setting out on what may well prove to be a long journey, it makes sense to avail yourself of core skills and knowledge, and this is what the nationally available training programmes aim to provide. Take a course as a way into the sport and to help expand your skills.

Go stalking with a professional

The alternative is to find someone who is prepared to give you an introduction to the world of stalking and to take you out with them so that you can benefit from their experience and knowledge, or to go out with a professional on paid stalks.

Deer management and stalking

Those embarking on deer management need qualifications. They also need to have a keen understanding of the different species of deer and how they behave.

There is some excellent training schemes available. You can do a DSC1 and DSC2 and then a more advanced course.

BASC offers some excellent and affordable stalking schemes which teach the practical aspects of getting close and shooting deer in the company of a professional and knowledgeable stalker. Students also learn about the background of stalking and what makes it happen.

Finally, if you’re going out stalking it’s always a good idea to have a valid first-aid qualification. It shows you are taking things seriously.

Stalking muntjac

Fresh deer scat shows the stalker he’s in the right place

Understand the ground

Time spent scouting the ground before stalking is time well spent. Sometimes this may be to judge the best location for high seats or to discover where stalking would be unsafe 
due to farm traffic, roads or public access. This is a good pastime to undertake out of the deer season. You will be keeping tabs on the local deer population and learn more about their behaviour.

white stalking clothing

Eyes on the ground

With a camera trap you can keep an eye on the deer 24 hours a day, which helps even the busiest recreational stalkers.

Another tip is to use mineral supplements 
to improve the deer, 
move them away 
from sensitive sites 
or lure them towards the camera trap. Most deer will respond well to supplements targeted at cattle; even basic salt licks can work well depending on what 
is naturally available.

Merkel K3 Extreme .308

Stalking unseen on the blind side of the ridge

Reporting back

People like to know what’s happening on their property, so it is prudent to keep them in the loop. For some people this may be 
a catch-up in the farmyard after 
a morning’s stalk, others perhaps 
a text or phone call saying if you’ve been successful. Some people may respond best to a formal email or letter at the end of the season explaining how the stalking has been that year.

Game books from Fur, Feather & Fin

Keep records

Record-keeping is crucial to deer management. Go to any stalking estate and you will find a larder book, filled out with details about the animal, the location it was shot and 
a host of other things. So keep a record of the beasts you shoot.

If someone 
asks “did you shoot something by the big wood last week?” you have some kind of record. When those reports and questions are a month or two after the fact, having a register could be very helpful. Also, a detailed game book is a lovely thing to look back 
on years later.

Take pride in your deer and their good stewardship, relish the ability to take home your own venison for cooking and be proud of taking an active part of the management of an ecosystem.

How much money should you pay for stalking if you have a private permission?

Is it down to how many deer need to be culled or is it done on acreage?

If the landowner wants his deer controlled and you want some stalking, a fair system would be based on sharing the venison or its value on a 50-50 basis.

If you take all the venison, then you pay the landowner half its value. If you also intend to make money from the enterprise by taking out paying guests, then matters are somewhat different and you will need to have a suitable agreement with the landowner; perhaps that you take the stalking fee and he receives the trophy fee.

Under such circumstances, the landowner may simply want a fixed annual return and you will have to decide just what it is worth to you.

Much depends on how far you have to travel to and from your stalking; how many deer will or might need to be culled and an estimate of the value of the venison.

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