Whether you're a beginner or a veteran stalker, formal assessment is worthwhile, says Chris Dalton

I want to discuss the merits and process of formal assessment through Deer Management Qualifications (DMQ), which provide the industry-recognised standard in Deer Stalking Certificates (DSC) Level 1 and 2.

Anyone wishing to apply for the grant of a firearms certificate (FAC) will almost always be required to achieve or commit to taking DSC1. Rightly or wrongly, it is pretty much essential to receive the grant for any deer-legal rifle and it’s a requirement for a stalking lease. That said, most people who undertake DMQ training and assessment do so because they want to learn and understand more about deer and deer management.

I should add that I have run many courses that have included a number of older and experienced stalkers, some with more than 40 years on the hill. You can sometimes teach the odd new trick to an old dog and they will often share some anecdotal incident or situation that adds real-time perspectives to theoretical scenarios.

DSC1 is the entry-level deer qualification. The syllabus covers all aspects of deer, through ecology, behaviour, season and the law, safety, both in terms of deer and deer-legal firearms, deer recognition, along with the food regulations relating to game, and much more. In terms of preparation and assessment, you have a number of options available, but if you have never been stalking, I would strongly recommend you go out on at least one stalk first.

If you are fortunate to have a friend who stalks, ask to tag along. Or consider paying a guide to take you out. You don’t need to have a rifle, it is just about taking in the experience.

As for registering for and taking the assessment, most of the shooting organisations run DSC1 and pre-DSC1 courses. You will find all of the information relating to costs and availability online but, ordinarily, the courses will be run over three or four days, costing around £300 a person.

There are alternatives. At South Ayrshire Stalking, we run either assessment only or a half-day revision session, followed by the assessment itself. However you decide to tackle the DSC1, some self-study prior to attending will help you.

deer stalking

If you want to join a syndicate, allowing access to ground, you wil need DSC1

Benefits

So why put yourself through a DSC1 assessment in the first place? How will it benefit you? Leaving the FAC grant process aside, a DSC1 opens up a number of options. If you want to join a deerstalking syndicate, allowing you access to stalking ground, you will need DSC1. The only exception might be a farmer giving permission to stalk on private land, but even then most now require it. If you can get such a permission without it, you are indeed fortunate.

All of the professional timber and forest management companies will require a minimum of DSC1 before you set foot in any forest with a rifle. Aside from this, it is more about the personal satisfaction and sense of achievement in having studied for and passed a recognised qualification that will set you off on the right track as you start your deerstalking journey.

A bit of paper will not magically transform you into a good stalker — that comes with experience gained by spending time in the forest or on the hill — but you will have attained a huge amount of knowledge and can build on that as you get your boots on the ground. This, after all, is when the real learning process begins.

Prior to 1 April, a DSC1 would have given you large game handling certification. That has now changed and in passing your DSC1 you will have demonstrated a knowledge of the required theory elements of wild game meat hygiene. To achieve full large game trained hunter status, you will need to complete DSC2.

Naturally, in order to register for DSC2 you must complete DSC1. The requirement for anyone registered after 1 April 2021 is to successfully stalk and shoot one deer with an approved witness (AW) in close attendance. You will be observed and assessed at all times by your chosen AW against a number of performance criteria and will have to satisfy your AW that you have achieved the necessary standard in meeting all of these before the portfolio is progressed to an assessor. For detailed guidance on the DSC2 process and to register, go to the DMQ website at dmq.org.uk

Most people go down the DSC2 road to expand on existing knowledge and to further develop their deer management skills. In terms of carcass handling, DSC2 helps towards becoming competent and qualified to legally process deer into the food chain — or on to your own table.

Clearly, there are some who will require Level 2 because of employment or perhaps because of the specific requirements of a lease agreement. There are a number of ways to tackle DSC2. The difficulty is that deer, like police officers, are notorious for not being around when you want one.

You can simply book a single stalk as a witnessed outing if you feel you are ready to go, but remember that the AW is simply there to observe and if they have to intervene or assist you, it ceases to be a witnessed outing and becomes a training stalk. But if this happens, make use of that and take full advantage of the instruction. Ask questions so that you are fully prepared for the next time out.

A more popular option is to book a stalking package over a number of days, which allows for both training and witnessing as required and can be tailored to suit your particular level of experience. Time wise, stalking does, hinds or early-season cull bucks is much cheaper than the peak of the male deer season. Moreover, the cover is down and deer are generally moving to feed so, again, it makes sense and is easier on the purse. You can, and I would strongly urge you to do this, self-prepare. There are some excellent training videos online.

Hands-on

Additionally, many organisations run carcass-handling days, allowing you to get instructed, hands-on time on a deer carcass. They are good value and often run at local level. Finally, don’t register for DSC2 until you are ready for a witnessed stalk. While you have three years to complete it from the date of registration, which seems a long time, it soon creeps up on you. I have done countless assessments for people who have run out of time and had to re-register.

At first glance, all of this seems very daunting, but I have been involved in training for 20 years and have yet to meet anyone who has not enjoyed the journey. All who have taken the plunge — and I refer to experienced and inexperienced alike — have enjoyed doing so. None of us knows it all. We are all continually learning, so whatever your particular situation, even as an old hand, don’t just think about it. Get on and do it. What’s the worst that can happen?

Chris Dalton’s trusted kit list

Scope – Leupold VX 6 – HD

Rifle Haenel Jager 10 in 6.5 Creedmore

Ammo Sellier & Bellot

All the above are available from Viking Arms Ltd. If you want to discuss your stalking needs and equipment then get in touch with the Field Team who will be happy to advice. You can reach them here at Viking Field Team.