Charles Smith-Jones tells you how to prepare yourself to pass your DSC1 and face the deer stalking certificate assessments with confidence
The Deer Stalking Certificate DSC1 is nationally recognised as the cornerstone of deerstalker training and administered by Deer Management Qualifications (DMQ), which oversees the award through a number of approved assessment centres.
How is DSC1 assessed? What’s involved?
- Visuals – you will need to identify at least 16 out of 20 slides of deer correctly, naming species and sex.
- Written work – you have to answer at least 40 out of 50 multiple-choice questions covering deer biology and ecology, the law, stalking and taking the shot.
- Knowledge of game meat hygiene – you must answer at least 32 out of 40 multiple choice questions covering deer health, carcass inspection and lardering. If you already hold an award in game meat hygiene recognised by the Food Standards Agency, you may not need to take this assessment — your assessment centre can advise you on this.
- Safety – you will need to answer 10 oral questions and carrying out practical tasks based around a simulated stalking environment
- Shooting – you must place three shots inside a 4in circle on a zeroing target, then a total of six shots into the kill zone of a deer target from 100m (prone), 70m (sitting or kneeling), and 40m (standing), as shown below. Three attempts are permitted at each target. You can use any aids to shooting that you would normally have available to you in the field, such as bipods, sticks or a rucksack, as a support.
Preparing for the DSC1
It’s a good idea to study the Ultimate Deer Data online training from the British Deer Society, which is an interactive training package teaching you the knowledge you need. It costs £20 for 30 days’ use, which should be sufficient for study.
Do you know your deer?
You will need to identify the six British deer by species and sex. Study pictures and videos, and note the recognition features that will enable you to tell them apart. One useful tip is to pay special attention to the rump markings and length of tail (or the lack of it, in the case of roe).
You’ll be shown a set of 20 slides from which you must identify the deer and whether it is male or female — you only need to get 16 right to pass.
Make sure that you understand any question properly before you answer it. Is it asking about open or close seasons? Or legal rather than illegal calibres for shooting deer, for example? Before you hand your paper in, take a few minutes to check it through, just in case you’ve made an obvious mistake. And if you really don’t know the answer to a question, have a go at it anyway; don’t leave it blank!
On the rifle range
Even if you have never fired a full-bore rifle before, don’t be concerned. Your instructor can give you all the coaching and help you need to ensure that you are shooting straight; only when the actual assessment begins must he step back. Up to that point, take your time, and once you are placing three shots inside the 4in circle of the zeroing target, declare that you are ready to start the test. Too many people chase groups of shots around the paper trying to place them dead centre, succeeding only in winding themselves up and overheating barrels in a search for absolute perfection. You get three attempts on both the zeroing and deer targets, so if the first goes wrong, remember you have two more in reserve.
Having passed the 4in circle part of the shooting assessment, all you need to do now is put six shots into the larger kill area of the deer target from varying ranges and positions. Before the shoot, examine the target and note where the centre of that area is so that you know your point of aim. Experienced deerstalkers often put themselves at a disadvantage by aiming a bit low and back, as if going for a heart shot; on the target, your point of aim is up the centre of the foreleg and halfway up the body.
When shooting from standing, kneeling or sitting, make sure that you are comfortable. Practising beforehand with shooting sticks and an air rifle or rimfire can really pay off. And if your position does not feel right, adjust it — it may mean that centimetre difference between being inside or outside the line.
The safety assessment
You will have prior access to the 24 questions that you might be asked for the safety assessment, so revise them. Your verbal assessor will be on your side and will encourage you if you are facing a temporary mental blank. Of the practical tasks, you know that one will definitely involve crossing an obstacle either alone or with a friend present, so practise the procedures beforehand, and stop and think if you are unsure of what to do next. Remember, this assessment is all about safety.
You’ll also be faced by cut-out deer targets that you will have to declare as safe or unsafe shots. If you have a clear view of the target, with a good visible backstop of soft earth behind it to receive the bullet, there’s a good chance that it’s a safe option. Beware of limited visibility, no backstop, ricochet hazards or the target area of the deer being obscured by vegetation — you want a clear chest shot.
For beginners and the experienced
No matter what your level, the DSC1 has something in it for you. On top of being rewarded with a great sense of achievement, you’ll learn a lot and become a better stalker.
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Top tips for passing DSC1 success
- DO prepare yourself — revise fully beforehand, even if you are attending a formal course. Read through your training manual, and go through the questions with other candidates or a friend.
- DO tell the assessment centre in advance if you have any special needs such as mobility or learning support. For example, you are allowed a reader to help you to understand questions properly.
- DO watch deer identification videos and learn the visual differences between the species.
- DO calm down! If you don’t pass an assessment on the day, you can resit it later.
- DO get the assessor to familiarise you with the assessment centre rifle if you will be using it for the shooting or safety assessments on the day.
- DO always be muzzle aware and, if in doubt during a practical safety assessment, take out the bolt and check that the bore is clear.
- DO practise shooting from sticks with an air rifle or rimfire. Pay special attention to finding a sitting or kneeling position that best suits your build.
- DO enjoy yourself — you’re taking your DSC1 because you enjoy deerstalking!
- DON’T rush yourself. There are no time limits on any of the assessments.
- DON’T accept a rifle from anyone without asking them to prove that it’s unloaded first.
- DON’T turn up with a brand-new rifle set-up that you have not used before. The assessment centre will be able to provide a proven accurate rifle and ammunition combination on request.
- You have three years from registration to complete the DSC1, and your assessment centre will provide you with a referral letter that you can take to any other assessment centre to complete the missing elements.