How to use a high seat for deer culling
High seats are one of the most useful tools for deer culling. Kate Gatacre offers some tips on where to place them.
There are plenty of stalkers who poo-poo the notion of using a high seat: “That’s not stalking,” they say, “you’re not using any fieldcraft.” They do have a point. However, high seats can be one of the most useful tools in culling deer. They give you the chance to observe what is on a patch of ground, how different species behave, and they should — if positioned and used correctly — give you a rock-solid base from which to shoot. Get it right, and your quarry will be totally unaware of your presence.
While based in the Netherlands, I did almost all my culling from a high seat. It’s a flat country and finding a good backstop can be difficult, so high seats provide far more safety. We work with a combination of permanent high seats and moveable ones, with the location of the latter being determined by the season, cover, crops and plantations. What needs protecting, and where you will have good visibility, are key.
And as the leaf falls, I’m going to be using a temporary high seat on my patch in the UK, too. So what will determine the placement of a high seat, and what other measures can you employ to use it to your advantage?
Your first priority, of course, is safety — for yourself and others. Unless you have a high seat facing downhill, a backstop is not of the same concern as when stalking, as long as you are shooting within sensible ranges. The trajectory of your bullet is inevitably going to be downwards. It’s still absolutely vital, however, to place the high seat so that your arc of fire is not towards houses, livestock or any buildings, tracks and roads.
Your own safety is important too — both while you are erecting the high seat and when you are using it. You need regularly to check that it hasn’t rotted, come loose from the tree, or sustained other damage. If it is a permanent, wooden one, you need to treat it every year so that it doesn’t rot. We’ve had damage deliberately inflicted on some of our high seats, so do a quick check every time you go to it.
Clambering up with your rifle and any other kit can be a bit of a dangerous moment. Not only that, but there is the public liability aspect — if someone climbs up and injures themselves, you could have a serious problem. It’s sensible to put up a laminated warning sign. There are a few options for preventing the steps from becoming dangerously slippery — a covering of chicken wire will do the job and it is easy to put on, or a layer of rough sandpaper, though that won’t last so long. You can also buy anti-slip tape which isn’t expensive on eBay — try to find the stuff used on boats, which is made to survive all weathers.
Where to place the high seat
Every ground is different, but the same set of principles always applies. Find a spot where there is a lot of deer traffic, where you know they like to feed, or where there is a rutting stand. Always be prepared to move the high seat, too, if you find that it is facing the wrong way, or is at the wrong range for where the deer appear. We tend to wait a few days after we’ve put up a high seat before going there, as it will give things a chance to settle. You should consider the following: prevailing wind; range; angle of shooting, or arc; approach to the high seat; backdrop and support.
You want to ensure that, by and large, you are downwind of any deer that come into range, not only once you are in the high seat, but also on the approach. As with stalking, one whiff of you and the deer will be gone, and a deer that is unaware of your presence is much more likely to drop on the spot to a well-placed shot.
There’s nothing worse than being up on the high seat and, lo and behold, there’s the perfect cull buck, right below you. It’s bound to happen at some stage, but you can minimise the chances by pacing out a reasonable range from where you know the deer will be before choosing possible high seat positions. Be prepared to shoot at different ranges, but only if you can get a decent angle — if you haven’t got a clear view through the scope at your quarry, because of an acute downward angle,
obviously, don’t take the shot.
The arc of shooting
The ideal shot, in terms of accuracy, is going to be one where you have a really good, solid position. Unless it is one of the larger, wooden box-type high seats, a good position is rarely shooting straight ahead. Shooting to one side (an arc to your left if you are right-handed, and vice-versa) will be the most stable position. So face your high seat at an angle to the area where you expect deer to appear (see diagram above). A comfortable arc is probably around 90°. I’ve had a few outings where I haven’t taken a shot as the animal was too far to my right — I was having to contort myself into position. You’re much more likely to pull a shot if you’re not properly aligned, and your position will not be stable.
You can, of course, go out in the pitchblack, stumbling along to your high seat, thinking that you’ll have the advantage as you won’t be seen. But you won’t see anything either — and unless you have night vision or know your way so well that you can miss every twig, you’re just going to scare away anything in the vicinity by making noise. Far better to wait until it’s just getting light and stalk your way into the high seat. It is worth trying to place the high seat where you can make a subtle approach in terms of scent, sound and sight. Having said that, I’ve had to walk along the side of a field with deer in it to my high seat. I walked purposefully along, got to the high seat, and climbed up. Of course they’d scarpered, but within 10 minutes they were back and 15 minutes later, I’d culled an old doe.
Stay in the high seat until it is completely dark. Even if you aren’t going to get a shot, you may well see animals, increasing your knowledge of what is on the ground, which can inform your cull. I unload (quietly!) 30 minutes after the official sunset — it’s an old habit, as that is the legal cut-off time in the Netherlands. There may still be enough light to take a shot, especially with modern optics, but would there be enough for a follow-up if it is needed?
If you’re lucky enough to have a high seat with a roof on it, your face will be cast into the shadows. As long as you move slowly and don’t stick your head or hands out of the sides, you’ll be pretty much invisible to deer. I have sat in open-topped high seats in the middle of rides and, even then, they rarely spot you, as long as you move slowly. However, if you just have the open chair/rest/stand type of high seat, it’s worth trying to find a spot with a bit of backdrop. This will stop your silhouette being too obvious, and disguise it and your movement. In our part of the world, deer tend not to look up for danger but if they spot movement, they’ll bolt.
If you are using the “leaning” type of high seat or making a wooden one yourself that will be supported by a tree, you need to make sure that you pick a sturdy one. You also need to make sure that there aren’t lots of low-hanging branches obscuring your view. The wider the view, the earlier you’ll spot the deer, and even if there isn’t a shot or a good animal to cull, you’ll have the pleasure of watching them.
Erecting the high seat
Once you’ve found your support, taking in all the factors above, you can place your high seat. Take along a pair of secateurs and a telescopic saw to remove any branches obscuring your view. Do make sure, if it isn’t your land, that you check with the landowner before you start chopping at trees, though!
If you can, get someone to give you a hand. If nothing else, they can hold the high seat while you climb up and check you’ll have the right angle, and they can check that you aren’t silhouetted against the sky. They can also hold it while you secure it. We use heavy-duty chain and a padlock, which also helps against theft. I also always take some WD40 to spray on any parts that might be stiff or rusty.
Of course the most important thing is that you can take a safe and humane shot — so I take a rice bag for the permanent high seats that have a wooden shooting guard, and I put some insulation piping on the ones with the metal shooting guards. This will give you a far better and more steady rest.
Three portable high seats on the market
Keith’s High Seats
The single is easy to move and erect, but at 30kg it might take me two trips. It breaks down into easily transportable parts and, according to the website, can be assembled and put up in 10
minutes — we use similar ones at home, so I can believe that. The height to seat is 2.87m, and the height to rifle rest is 3.43m. The shooting guard isn’t adjustable on this one, so if you are short, you may want to bring something to sit on. There are double high seats available, too. Price: £170 +p&p Website: www.keithshighseats.co.uk
Seeland High Seat
I’ve actually just bought one of these with the back legs. Without back legs, it is light enough for me to carry into position (around 15kg) and I can have it up within 10 minutes, and taken down and folded up in less. The back legs are a bit trickier to put together. It is sturdy and comfortable, with an adjustable shooting guard. I have replaced the ratchet safety strap, as it’s not quite long enough to reach around larger trees. It’s 2.5m high to the shooting guard.
Price: £329.99 Tel 01844 237944 or 07912 934389
Rivers Edge Relax Two-Man High Seat
With ergonomic loungerstyle seating, this should be comfortable. With TearTuff mesh seat and backrest, the high seat has a flip-up shooting rail. This is a tall one, at 4.72m to the seat, and it’s also one of the heavier ones at 34kg. It comes with two ratchet straps and tie-off ropes, as well as safety harnesses for those who get sleepy! Price: £239.99 Website: www.bushwear.co.uk