There is a code of practice to cover deer stalking in the UK and you should familiarise yourself with it. It’s intended to offer an introductory guide and is aimed mainly at the lowland woodland stalker, although some is applicable to the highlands.
1. The conduct of deer stalking must meet the standards in the code, ie show respect for the countryside and due regard to health and safety and consideration for others.
2. Always ensure that there is a solid backstop behind a deer before taking the shot and that you have an uninterrupted view of the foreground.
3. Remember that deer stalking is an emotional topic to people who have little knowledge of deer management. They will make judgements depending on how you behave.
4. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. If in doubt, always ask.
The need for deer management
Deer are prolific breeders, so a certain amount of culling is needed to protect agricultural crops and stop deer themselves starving to death if numbers get too large. Obviously deer stalking is mainly recreational, but remember to respect the wishes of landowners, gamekeepers, foresters, and farm managers, and liaise with them before going stalking.
Make sure you know the law with regards to deer management and observe health and safety considerations. You need to be able to identify deer and know when and where you’re allowed to shoot them.
You are carrying a lethal weapon, so take due care. Re the golden rules, make sure you have a solid backstop behind the deer and an unobstructed view before taking the shot.
If you’re shooting from a high seat in woodland – as is popular in deer management – you have the solid backdrop of the ground behind the deer. Make sure your rifle is unloaded when you climb in and out of the seat.
In general, keep the safety catch on when you’re deer stalking and don’t release it until you’re about to take the shot. Always unload your firearm before entering a building or crossing an obstacle. And make sure you carry your firearm certificate with you and written proof of shooting permission.
Zeroing the rifle
It’s your responsibility to shoot humanely so check regularly that your rifle is zeroed. If you haven’t shot the rifle for a while, it’s taken a knock or you’re using a new batch of ammunition, always zero it before use.
Only shoot if you can do it humanely. Don’t take a shot in poor light, with an obstructed view or if you doubt your ability to get the shot.
After taking a shot, always assume you hit the deer and follow up by searching for the animal even if it takes a long time. Then it’s your responsibility to humanely despatch the animal. Taking a dog trained to search for wounded deer, helps you to search more effectively and makes the whole day more enjoyable too.
Although deer are large animals, the area in which you need to shoot to kill is very small, so you need to be a good enough shot to go out deer stalking in the first place.
Taking the shot
Don’t take the shot unless you’re absolutely sure it’s safe. Aim at the chest area where the vital organs are found. The brain is very small, so a head shot is too difficult and not humane.
Wait for the deer to stand still, never shoot at running deer. Line up your shot with a bush or rock. Once you’ve taken the shot, reload and put your safety catch on and then wait. Usually you need to wait at least five minutes to gauge where you’ve shot your deer and whether you need to follow up. Learn to read the signs of how a deer behaves when shot in a certain place.
If you’re not sure if the deer is dead, follow the signs of blood or hair, track it with your dog until you find it and despatch it humanely if you need to.
Handling the carcass
If you stalk, you need to be able to take care of the carcass, so take a training course or ask a professional to teach you. You should gralloch and clean out your carcass as soon as possible after shooting. If your shot was a clean one to the heart or lung, it’s not so necessary. But if your bullet has blown gut content into the body then you need to clean up the mess in the field.
You need to dispose of the gralloch according to government guidelines. That means
These aren’t legal stipulations, but you don’t want to offend members of the public so do follow recommendations. If there is no likelihood a member of the public will see it, you can leave the gralloch for foxes, badgers and bird of prey to eat.
A telescope or binoculars to find your quarry (not your rifle scope)
An appropriate knife
A good place to find lots of information, is the BASC (British Association of Shooting and Conservation) website. They do very good courses on deer management, DSC1 & DSC2, which are a must if you want to gain access to a lot of estates these days, as it proves that you are committed to safe shooting practices.
As a tribute to the animal, you should discover as much about deer and their behaviour as you can. It will also help your stalking. And be prepared for tension with your better half when stalking becomes your new addiction!