deer stalking

Some people stalk for sport with a guide, others in land management need to control the local deer population.

Deer stalking is one of the fastest-growing fieldsports.

At the time of writing there are 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.

The number of deer in the UK has exploded in recent years – current estimates put the number at around two million. Charles Smith Jones of the British Deer Society comments: “It is fair to say that there are probably more deer here now than there have been during the last 1,000 years.” Unless deer numbers are controlled they will suffer from starvation and disease.

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.

So at what times of year can you go stalking?

Deer seasons

Deer stalking has carefully organised seasons for culling the different species at different times. (Here is a full guide.)

The different species of deer in the UK

There are six different species of deer in this small island (read more about them in detail here.) You’ll find the following:

1. Red deer

red deer

The Scottish red deer, Cervus elaphus scoticus, is in a league of its own

2. Roe deer

Roe deer

Roe deer at the end of Winter

3. Sika deer

Male sika deer

Male sika deer

4. Chinese water deer

Chinese water deer

Chinese water deer

5. Muntjac

Muntjac hiding

Muntjac deer

6. Fallow deer

Fallow deer buck

Fallow deer buck

Learning about deer stalking

Many people who stalk have completed the British Deer Society’s Deer Stalking Certificate at level one and two. 

This offers useful training and knowledge but a formal qualification isn’t needed to go stalking. However deer stalking is a complex sport, requiring skills and understanding of natural history, legislation, firearms, health and safety and butchery.

So after you’ve learned more about it, how can you get out into the field and find somewhere to stalk?

Getting into deer stalking

How do you go about getting a permission to shoot deer on land?

If you are a competent stalker, speak and/or write to local landowners, farmers and foresters to see if they need help with deer management.

When you get a stalking permission keep the land owner or farmer in the loop. It might be a catch-up in the farmyard after 
a morning’s stalk or 
a text or phone call. Some people like formal email or letter at the end of the season with a report on how the stalking has been that year.

You can also discover stalking opportunities on the Deer Stalking Directory

If you are new to stalking, then it’s worth investigating the stalking schemes run by BASC local to you. These will help you to make contact with local stalkers, learn more about your local stalking habitat and you will also be taught more about the practical aspects of getting close and shooting deer in the company of a professional and knowledgeable stalker.

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.

Tikka T3 Lite

The Tikka T3 is probably the best-selling stalking rifle in the UK today. It’s earned a reputation as being dependable (pictured Tikka T3X Lite)

Choosing a rifle for deer stalking

Once you’ve got your permission, what rifle should you use? And what about ammunition?

You can start by reading this useful guide on rifles for deer stalking, with both new and second-hand options, that have ranked highly with our gun reviewers.

You will also need to have a valid firearms licence and a safe place in which to store your rifle and ammunition.

The rifle you choose will depend on the quarry you are planning to shoot and the calibre you need for the species. For example, 
if you will be stalking muntjac and Chinese water deer, a .22 centrefire, a .222, 
a .223 or .22-250 would be fine. If you have the chance at roe as well, then legally in England and Wales you need to start at 0.240 minimum calibre.

You’ll also need a scope for your rifle. Here are some of the ones our reviewers have looked at and recommended.

Tips for deer stalking

  • 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.
  • Use natural features to mask your approach. A bubbling stream can hide the sound of your footsteps in woodland across dried leaves, for example. Avoid walking along skylines because you will be very visible to any deer.
  • 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.
  • Deer can be nervous and skittish in bad weather, which stops them using their senses to warn them of predators. It’s better to wait until the weather has improved.
  • When woodland stalking, be mindful that deer are often at the edges of woodland. Walking too close to the woodland’s edge may push the deer in deeper.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing of the right colour for the area you are stalking in.
  • Clothing should be silent and weatherproof (read our list of the best waterproof shooting jackets here.)
Stalking muntjac

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

Keeping 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. Keep a record of the beasts you shoot.

Ibex

The nimble ibex can climb high into the peaks at 4,000ft above sea level

Other types of stalking

Apart from deer, there is also more exotic stalking. You can stalk feral goats, wild boar or go on specialist quarry stalks abroad for species like ibex.

deer gralloch

Gralloching should be done immediately

Looking after your deer

A deer should be treated respectfully and carefully from the moment it is shot as it then becomes part of the food chain.

A deer should be gralloched (or field-dressed)to remove the alimentary tract (guts) immediately. Guts left in the carcass contaminate the edible parts in a process known as ‘greening’. Gralloching also helps to cool the carcass, slowing any degradation and improving the storage time. In addition it reduces the tainting of meat by blood.

hunting knife with antler handle

A hunting knife with a handle made from an antler

You will need a sharp stalker’s knife to carry out the gralloch,  your hands should be clean (or wear gloves) as should your equipment. (Learn how to make your own knife with an antler handle.)

On return to base the deer should be put in a cool larder. Shooting UK asked keen stalker Hugh van Cutsem (Instagram page @uk_huntergatherer) how long he’d recommend hanging venison. He said: “People should experiment with hanging game. You can butcher and cook it straight after shooting if you want and equally hang for a few days as long as it’s at the right temperature and fly free. Most important I think is to bleed an animal out properly as soon as possible after shooting.”

Deer trophy head

A trophy head is a memorable souvenir of a stalk

If you want to keep the deer’s head as a trophy you can find out more here. Or if you’re curious to discover more about records for deer trophies look at the latest tables published by the International Council for Game & Wildlife Conservation (CIC).

venison burger

Venison burgers are mouthwatering and easy to make

Enjoying delicious venison 

Of course, the finish of a succesful stalk is enjoying the venison you have brought home. It’s a meat that has been valued for its taste for centuries.

Venison is very versatile for cooking and very nutritious. It has more iron than beef, and less fat and cholesterol.

You’ll find many venison recipes here, whether you want to cook something simple and quick, need a venison recipe for the barbecue or a way of cooking muntjac.

Why a stalking syndicate is so important

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deer population

The growing deer population: its impact and the options open to us

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Roe buck stalking

Tips to improve your rifle shooting and markmanship

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Muntjac deer

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Stalking kit chosen by Chris Dalton for Shooting Times

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Holkham Hall

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Sika deer

Deer seasons in the UK. When can deer be hunted?

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How to choose a riflescope

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