Gaining stalking rights can be a challenge but there are several ways to put deer before your crosshairs, as Charles Smith-Jones explains
Some poor souls seem to labour in vain to locate even the smallest and least productive area where they might indulge their passion for deer stalking. Others, more fortunate, appear to find their permissions almost by accident. Is this no more than pure luck? In some cases, possibly, but with a little thought and planning you can increase your chances of finding that perfect piece of land and gain a stalking permission for it.
You will need to decide what you are looking for before you set out on the hunt for a stalking permission. Do you just want to stalk occasionally or are you looking for somewhere that will allow you to have the satisfaction of your own management plan? Don’t always expect full independence, however, as the landowner will usually have a set idea of what needs to be achieved. And please don’t be greedy. Some stalkers take on far more ground than they can manage effectively. It’s all very well shooting the odd roebuck during the balmy days of summer but the main cull will inevitably focus on the female side of the deer population at a time of year when the days are short and the weather is often against you.
If time really is an issue, why not look instead at the stalking schemes run by BASC or other organisations, or restrict yourself to the occasional outing with a professional who, with time and trust, might permit you to stalk alone. Stalking on this basis can be surprisingly affordable, especially if you are happy with cull animals rather than big trophies.
If you are prepared to put some money down, there are stalking syndicates across the country that often have vacancies. The advantage of a syndicate is that it frequently has access to larger and more varied ground and, of course, it will be composed of people who share an interest and are hopefully prepared to help each other out. Before reaching for your cheque book, however, do make a few enquiries to make sure that all is above board. Sadly, reports of disappointed syndicate members who have found themselves on unproductive ground are not unheard of.
Taking a sporting lease may be the easiest option if you want regular stalking access, but beware – you can end up paying handsomely for the privilege. Depending on your location and the nature of the land, rents can be expensive, especially in parts of southern England where it is not uncommon to hear of deer stalking leases costing well in excess of £5 an acre per year. Why not form your own syndicate and spread the cost?
Gaining a stalking permission
If you’re lucky you can find something more reasonable and, in some cases, will not need to spend any money at all for your ground. Be prepared to put in some legwork and use your local knowledge. Spread the word that you are looking for ground: gamekeepers, gun shops and game dealers are good starting points, and many an opportunity has sprung from a casual conversation in the beaters’ cart during a shoot day. Very often an offer to help out with crop protection and vermin control can extend into an invitation to assist with the doe cull, and eventually extend to wider stalking access.
Blind approaches to landowners can occasionally pay off but you’ll need to judge your approach carefully. Turning up in a busy farmer’s yard dressed in camouflage, ready to go with a rifle over your shoulder and an out-of-control spaniel, is less likely to bear fruit than a smartly dressed enquiry. A personal introduction is helpful, failing which a polite letter or email asking if you can call round to discuss possibilities is often better than a direct approach. Don’t expect instant successes, however, and be prepared for rejections (indeed, some might not even reply at all), but eventually persistence can pay off.
The landowner will be expecting something back from you. It may be no more than a free and reliable deer management service but perhaps there may need to be an agreement over the share of any revenue from carcass sales. Sadly, the days when a bottle of whisky at Christmas was enough have long since passed. Most landowners are now aware that deer stalking has a value but may prefer to see it done under their own terms rather than sign over control in return for pure revenue.
Whatever the case, they will want proof that you are safe and competent. Whatever you feel about formal qualifications, there is no denying that DSC1 and DSC2 confirm that you have received training and have proven your ability. Landowners have a duty of care and cannot be expected to permit armed strangers to roam their land without proof that they can be trusted; they’ll expect some form of hard evidence. That you need to hold suitable insurance cover goes without saying.
Think outside the box
If you are prepared to think outside the box some unusual openings may present themselves. With deer starting to appear in new places, such as golf courses or the ornamental gardens of stately homes, the thoughts of managers will turn to preventing damage and may present the stalker with new opportunities.
Do take care when the circumstances are unusual, and be especially wary of built-up areas. As the public presence increases, so too do safety considerations and your access may be limited, so sometimes careful thought may persuade you to reject some offers, however tempting they may be. Take special care, as well, to ensure that you comply with the conditions on your Firearms Certificate, which specify where and for what quarry you may use your rifle.
Once you have found that prized permission, take care to hang onto it. Be open and honest, don’t try to cover up any mistakes and achieve any cull that has been decided – if under pressure, don’t be too proud to get help. Consider a short annual report on your activities, including what has been achieved and your plans for the year to come. A landowner needs to see you as an asset not a liability and will appreciate a professional approach as well as a useful set of eyes on the ground outside working hours. Never forget that it can take years to build up a reputation but only seconds to destroy it.
If you are really lucky, stalking permission opportunities can appear out of the blue. Many years ago I received a telephone call wondering if I could reduce the deer on a local farm. There was no question of money changing hands: all the farmer asked was a ‘one for you, one for me’ share of the deer shot. In return I was allowed free rein with all management decisions providing the land was not shot too hard and I also kept on top of the foxes.
My name had come from the local game dealer, whose recommendation came simply because I took special care over the carcasses I supplied to him. The result was not just the stalking but a longstanding friendship. Finding stalking can be hard but it is not impossible, so don’t give up hope. Play your cards right and sometimes it will even come to you.