So it’s several months until the pheasant/duck/partridge shooting season starts. What’s a red-blooded shooter to do? Well before you go mad with frustration, have you considered deer stalking? It’s one of the fastest growing field sports in the UK. But be warned, it’s very addictive. Prepare to annoy your better half with your new-found hobby.
With over 1 and a half million deer in the UK countryside needing management, and at least two species of deer to hunt every day of the year, the UK is a great spot for a deer stalking newbie.
It’s a very humbling experience to pit your wits against such a magnificent creature that’s been roaming the countryside for centuries. It can feel quite primeval to hunt at this level since you will need to learn to track by falling back on all your senses to ultimately shoot such a beautiful animal.
We’ll assume you don’t already know any deer stalkers. So no doubt you have many questions. Where do you go to learn how to shoot? What do you do with the deer once you’ve shot it? What equipment do you need?
Even if you already know a lot about shooting birds, it’s a good idea to get some training. Shooting mammals is a whole different ball game. A number of outfitters, guides and organisations offer day courses training equating to a beginner’s guide to stalking. Look online for one of the many dedicated Facebook groups or the widely used forum; The Stalking Directory. People will be happy to welcome you into the sport. Often forum members can get you involved in an introduction to the sport free of charge. They can introduce you to a local experienced deer stalker, which is one of the best ways to get started. Someone who can act as a mentor is invaluable. Try any of the below too for guidance.
The British Deer Society – www.bds.org.uk
The Stalking Directory – www.thestalkingdirectory.co.uk
Introduction to stalking courses – www.cervus-uk.co.uk
Leica Sports Optics – www.leica-storemayfair.co.uk
Mauser Firearms – www.mauser.com
The Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group – www.countrysportscotland.com
Once you’ve done your basic training, you will be accompanied to shoot your first deer. You’ll need to have demonstrated that you can shoot a deer in a specific place to kill it humanely. The training is done ethically using paper targets. The target is only 5 inches, so it’s not as easy as you might think!
Once you’re trained, you’ll need to apply for a firearms certificate. Do this sooner rather than later as the process can take a while. Make sure you don’t mess up the forms as they’ll send them back and you to the back of the queue. They’re not legal requirements, but you may be asked if you have done your Deer stalking certificate 1 training and if you have a mentor. If you have neither, they may refuse you a certificate for not having enough experience. Although hunting training isn’t compulsory in the UK, it is very useful and helps to enhance your enjoyment of the sport.
The British Deer Society Deer (BDS) stalking certificate 1 is the best. It’s a three-day course, with two days of classroom instruction on the ecology of deer, telling you the facts you need to know in order to stalk these fine creatures. Then there’s a field day, where you’ll be tested on your shooting ability and knowledge of field safety. You can borrow a rifle for the course if you don’t have your own and the course costs £275 which includes all fees and a comprehensive manual. You’ll need to join the BDS to take the course, which costs £71 and covers your essential insurance.
Now the fun begins. Once you’re trained and legally allowed to shoot deer, you need to buy some equipment. And oh boy, can you treat yourself. Remember it’s not all about the gun. You have to spot the deer first, so think about your optics and go for quality. At first and last light, the quality of your hunt could rest on the quality of your optics. So don’t buy cheap. Or if you do, expect to buy twice. Your riflescope should be your main investment. The UK Eri series, made by Leica (famed for quality cameras) are an excellent choice. They make a high-quality entry-level binocular called Trinovid.
In terms of your rifle, nearly all new rifles are good enough for deer stalking. But you may get more of a sense of pride from an older brand like Mauser. They make a great value rifle called the M-12.This will cost upwards of £1,249 depending on your choice of bells and whistles.
In terms of what to load it with, every stalker will advise you something different. Suffice to say, most deer stalking ammunition sold in the UK is either .243 Win or .308 Win.
When you first envisaged deer stalking, you may have had an image of yourself shooting a monarch of the glen. It’s definitely worth a trip up to Scotland. You have the choice of royal stags in the highlands and roe deer in the Borders. If you’re planning to stalk in Scotland, check out the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group website. Over a hundred providers list their stalking on here, with a range from budget to luxury stalking and it’s possible to pick up a bargain.
Yu need a good base level of fitness to stalk, especially If you’re heading to Scotland where you may or may not know there are quite a few hills. And crawling through peat and moorland while tracking can be tiring. It’s not the pace to find out your annual visit to the gym is not sufficient. Kit yourself out with e the right outdoor clothing and equipment and you’ll enjoy yourself that much more.
See you in the Scottish hills!