Some top tips for stalking deer from Jon Snowdon
Lately I was asked: “What do you consider the most important technique that should be put into practice while deerstalking?” I have to say the question found me a little off guard. At the time I was giving a DSC1 lecture on roe deer and it wasn’t the question I was expecting. My answer at that moment was to the point: don’t be seen, don’t be heard and don’t be scented. And in a nutshell that really is the answer, apart from the safe practice with a rifle and all the equipment likely to be used.
If the deer being stalked picks up even a hint of any of the above, then the stalker has little chance of success. Unless the deer in question is missing any or all of those senses, in which case humane despatch is the only solution. If deer lacked any of those highly tuned senses hunting would be far too easy and, to be frank, no challenge!
“Thank you, Jon,” I hear you say, so how do we attempt to outwit our quarry when they are so much better equipped than we will ever be?
Don’t be seen when stalking deer
This, as you can imagine, is much easier said than done. How can we attempt to succeed on that front?
Deer do have very good eyesight, they may not have the same colour spectrum that we do, but they can spot movement a long way off and can virtually see around a full 360°. They may be looking away from you, but one slight roll of an eye can pick movement up even when you are behind them and without it being necessary to turn their head.
Wear clothing that blends in with the terrain to be stalked. Conifer plantations are different to deciduous woodland, so pick a bland colour that fits the background. Camouflage is all the rage, but even that comes in a variety of shades and patterns. Approach every horizon with care, and I do not mean the horizon in the distance. Even slight rises in front of you could be hiding deer. At the approach of each rise keep down out of sight, crawl to the rise if necessary.
A deer will see the top of your head long before you see the animal, and do not forget the barrel of the rifle is usually sticking up like a flag! Slow and easy does it, no sudden movements, they will pick that up straight away. Use every bush, tussock, twig, ditch or trunk you can to break up your shape and stay hidden. Keep to the dark side of the forest edge or ride. The sun shining on your face will stand out like a beacon.
Don’t be heard
Deer have extremely acute hearing. They will hear any unnatural sound: the twang of the wire on a fence as you step over it, or the crack of a stick as you stand on it. Deer are capable of picking up that sound from a long way off which alerts them to danger, and danger to a deer means flee. Zips, Velcro, blowing the nose, sneezing or coughing will give your game away every time. I am all for good manners, but a white handkerchief held to the nose isn’t going to help in your quest one bit!
Wearing noisy clothing is pointless, anything nylon or waxed brushing against your thighs or a bush will sound like a predator to a deer. Squeaky boots or sling mounts also give the game away. Even taking the safety catch off can be heard.
Don’t be scented
Now this one is really tricky, the direction of the wind is probably the first thing you should think about. If it is blowing on your back you are going the wrong way. Deer have an incredible sense of smell and you can expect them to scent you at up to a mile. Get the wind wrong and they are gone!
At best you want it in your face, at worst coming across from the side. This is particularly tricky in the woods, because the direction of the wind changes as it swirls around the trees.
It is the same on the hill as it swings around the hills and corries. The clouds look as if they are coming toward you, but half-way up the hill you can feel it on your back, this can be very frustrating as you see 400 red deer bounding off a mile away.
There are those that say it is bad practice to smoke while stalking deer, why? If the deer can smell the smoke they can certainly scent you and they are far more worried about your scent. In fact, not that I am suggesting you start smoking, but smoke is a great way to know where the wind is. Napier produce a bottle called Apex Air Glo. It is as if you are carrying a container of smoke with you, very useful in all winds, but especially those tricky light ones where the direction is not obvious.
“Blimey, is that all I have to think about?”, I hear. They are some tips that will help and every one is crucial to successful hunting. Seen, heard, scented and remember stealth is the word, not that difficult really! Good hunting.
What’s it all about Alfie?
Well, stealth is not the lad’s strong point, but he is a master at scenting. He can scent deer 1,000 yards away and will often tell me I am being an idiot and going the wrong way!
He is on a mission at present. We have a large dog fox visiting and he has all but wiped out the poultry. His visits are around mid afternoon. Whenever the big lad is let out of the kennel, he immediately races full pelt on the trail. He vanished for 20 minutes the other day, by the speed he came out of the kennel, the fox must have been very close. His route on the TEK 2 GPSD collar was interesting and he was moving like a Derby winner.
Alfie isn’t keen on foxes and when they raid the flock I’m with him all the way, usually behind to be honest! We are going to have to have a serious meeting in the kennel to discuss tactics. Alfie’s not one for subtlety or manoeuvres, he’ll just grumph – kill it! We had better be quick, new birds have arrived and the boss is very keen on her poultry.