Being a better stalker: getting to the next level
An integral part of stalking is having somewhere to go, but permissions are hard won, says Chris Dalton
Having successfully completed a deerstalking certificate, a stalker’s attention will turn to applying for a UK firearms certificate (FAC), along with accessing land and potentially sourcing a mentor.
Covering the FAC first, I will be looking at deer-legal rifles. In the 20 years or so that I have been delivering training to the stalking sector, this is one area that generates huge debate. Criticism is often directed towards local police departments, the vast majority of which is unjustified.
There are clear cases when things have gone wrong and seemingly unfair rejections have been made, but are we in a position to make such a judgement? It is in all our interests that FAC holders are trained, safe and have good reason to own any firearm. The alternatives put the future of recreational stalking and private ownership of rifles in jeopardy.
While the grant process for an FAC is robust in the UK — and rightly so — it is also fair and quite straightforward, so do not be put off. All you are really being asked is do you have a ‘good reason’ to have the firearm(s) that you are applying for, along with a demonstrable commitment to and understanding of the legal and safety aspects surrounding the particular activity you want to engage in. Having completed DSC1 at this point will be a huge advantage.
Two referees and a medical confirmation must also attest you are of sound mind and good character, while access to ground affords you ‘good reason’ for stalking with a rifle. The former two are relatively easy; the last one can be problematic.
I know from experience how hard it can be to get stalking permission, but perseverance usually pays off. There are several routes to obtaining land access, the most common of which is to join a stalking syndicate. These are frequently advertised, mostly on social media — but be savvy before you part with any cash. Would you engage a tradesman to do major work in your house without making at the very least a few simple checks on previous work or references?
I have heard some real horror stories so do your homework beforehand. The most common problem seems to be that the land sold to you on the basis of two other syndicate stalkers subsequently turns out to be 30-plus. Any situations that seem too good to be true probably are. I recall one man who had bought into a syndicate for a considerable sum, supposedly allowing access to a number of stalking areas across the UK. But despite a year of trying, he never got access to any of them.
What also amazes me is the number of times I hear complaints from people who have paid to join a syndicate without going to view the land first. You should always ask to be shown around and, if possible, make contact with some of the other syndicate members. If that information is not forthcoming, nor an excuse is given as to why you can’t have contact information, be wary.
If the ground has seats or boxes go to check them. If you find a well-trodden path leading to them, I would be cautious. If there are only a few guys in the syndicate, why is the route as well trodden as the queue for ice creams on a bank holiday?
Becoming involved with a local shoot or farm — beating, picking-up or just helping out — can be invaluable. It will help raise your profile in the sort of circles where doors can be opened, and you are meeting like-minded people. Helping out with vermin control can be another way in. All you are really doing is networking, making contacts and getting to know the sort of folk who might be able to help — or will know someone who can.
Mentoring is, surprisingly, also often overlooked. Aside from the obvious wealth of knowledge you can tap into by following and spending time with an old hand while in the field, this is when you really start to learn your trade. It will help in any FAC application, too, as you are demonstrating a commitment to gaining knowledge in gun handling and safety.
This can be both before and after you have been granted your shiny new FAC. Stalkers are, in general, a helpful and friendly bunch and most I know would be more than willing to help a newcomer. It is incumbent on all of us to encourage and assist new blood who want to stalk and try to set them out on the correct path. Another excellent source of information is your nearest gunshop. We all bemoan the loss of our high street, but if we don’t support our local retailers, how can they survive? They will know what’s going on and who to speak to. But don’t expect simply to walk in and suddenly have all this information thrust at you — it is a two-way street.
Chris Dalton’s kit list
You will require stalking equipment, so use a local shop and establish a relationship. It may be a little more expensive than online, but you will find it beneficial, not least as you will have an easy comeback if there are problems. Gunshop owners generally know what they are talking about and will offer sound advice. Use them or lose them.
In my early stalking days, I managed to access a small block of ground close to Newton Stewart in Dumfries and Galloway. Managing this required travelling from Yorkshire, so I would stay locally for three or four days at a time. Naturally, in between outings I would call into the local gunshop, often buying something I probably did not need.
The owner, Tony, was a Lancastrian, but I never held that against him. He had exiled more than 20 years previously, but he had a real love of ‘proper’ pork pies — and I just so happened to live close to an award-winning butcher in Yorkshire. The rest is history. I made a good friend with some pie gifts and was rewarded by being given the nod towards some excellent stalking ground as a result.
So if you want to get out stalking with your own rifle on your back, don’t be put off by some refusals, knock-backs or the odd hurdle. There will be land out there with your name on it — you simply need to find it.