The need for deer management
For many people deer stalking is a recreational activity, but it is also necessary to protect agricultural crops, forestry, native flora and indeed, deer, since they are prolific breeders and, if numbers are allowed to increase unchecked, may become prone to starvation and disease. The culling of deer should always take place as part of a deer management plan which considers both the welfare of the animals and the damage they may cause. Wherever appropriate, the management plan should involve close liaison and co-operation between neighbouring landowners and stalkers. Stalkers should respect the requirements of landowners, gamekeepers, foresters, and farm managers, and liaise with them prior to going stalking. Deer stalking may take place very early in the morning or late in the evening, thereby avoiding actions that may disturb local residents.
The deer stalker’s obligations
It is your responsibility to know, and understand, the laws and best practice guidance relating to deer management. Crucially, you must be able to identify deer and to know when and where to shoot them. You must also have respect for the countryside, consideration for others and due regard to health and safety.
The rifle you use is capable of killing over great distances and every shot taken must be totally safe. Always ensure that there is a solid backstop behind the deer before taking the shot and that you have an uninterrupted view of the foreground.
Always check that the line of shot is unobstructed.
Shooting from high seats (in woodland) is a popular method of deer management. As you are shooting downwards it can provide safe backstops on flatter ground. Rifles must always be unloaded before climbing in and out of high seats.
Always check that the bore of your rifle is clear of any obstruction before loading or if there is the slightest danger that it has become fouled with mud or snow.
Do not load your rifle until you are about to commence stalking; apply the safety catch and do not release it until you are about to take the shot. Always ensure that the rifle is pointing in a safe direction. In some situations the rifle may be carried ‘magazine charged’ while stalking, and the chamber loaded only during the final approach to the deer.
Always unload your rifle before entering a house, any other building, vehicle or ascending/descending a high seat.
Always unload before crossing an obstacle.
If it is necessary to leave a rifle in a (locked) vehicle, ensure that it is out of sight; remove the bolt and ammunition where practicable and carry them with you.
It is advisable to carry your firearm certificate, or evidence of it, together with your written permission.
Zeroing the rifle
To ensure safe and humane shooting, you must practise and maintain your skill with the rifle and appropriate stalking ammunition and must check at regular intervals that your rifle is still zeroed correctly – i.e., that the bullet is striking a selected point of aim at a chosen range.
The rifle must be test-fired and the zero verified or corrected after a knock or other impact, or after any unaccountably wild shot. Also, when a new batch of ammunition is to be used or the rifle has not been shot for a prolonged period, ensure that the rifle is still zeroed correctly. No one should continue stalking in such a case until zeroing (or sighting-in) has been done.
While zeroing the rifle, it may be beneficial to practise shooting at short range to simulate a humane dispatch shot to ensure that you are aware of any aim-off allowance at short range.
Consideration for the deer
A shot should only be taken at a range that will ensure a humane kill. Shots should never be taken at a moving or badly-positioned deer, in poor visibility, through cover, or at any time when your aim is not steady. After taking a shot, always assume that you have hit the deer until you have proved otherwise by thorough searching. Always follow up and humanely dispatch a wounded deer, regardless of the time and effort involved.
Stalkers should own or have access to a dog trained to locate dead or wounded deer, and be steady to other wildlife.
Although deer are comparatively large animals, the vital areas for clean kills are small. No one should consider stalking unless they can consistently shoot a group of three shots within a 10cm target at 100m.
Taking a shot
Safety is paramount – never take a shot if there is the slightest doubt about safety.
Always identify your selected deer and ensure that no other animals can be wounded by your shot passing through the target.
Never fire at a deer unless you are absolutely sure that it is well within your effective killing range.
The recommended shot is to the chest. The brain is a very small target and for this reason head shots should be avoided, except when dispatching an injured animal at close range, as they can result in a shattered jaw or nose bone.
A static target allows for much more accurate shot placement than a moving one. Never take a shot at a running deer unless you are attempting to dispatch an already wounded animal. If in doubt over any shot, do not fire.
Before the shot, mark the position of the deer by reference to some adjacent feature e.g. bush, tree or rock, and then, if the deer runs off into cover, always assume a strike until proved otherwise.
Immediately after the shot, load another round, apply the safety catch and then wait. You should learn to recognise the behaviour of deer shot in different parts of the body, as this will dictate how long you should wait before following up. In most circumstances you should wait at least five minutes.
You should then approach the spot where the deer was standing and search for signs such as hair and blood. If you cannot find the carcass, do not give up. Follow any blood trail slowly, if possible with the aid of a trained dog. At all times be prepared to shoot again if necessary, but remember that at a range of a few metres the bullet will strike below the point of aim.
All stalkers must be capable of gralloching and inspecting a deer carcass. It is advisable to take lessons from a professional, or attend an appropriate training course.
Carcasses should be gralloched immediately after shooting and cleaned out as soon as possible. The by-products of gralloching should be disposed of responsibly and appropriately.
As soon as possible after gralloching, the carcass should be hung up to drain and transferred to a cool, dry, fly-proof store. Within a reasonable period of time it should be chilled to 7ºC or below.
If the carcass is to be taken to an approved game handling establishment (AGHE), then you must have a ‘trained hunter’ status and a written declaration will have to be completed for each carcass (or a batch of carcasses if more than one is being taken at the same time). For further information please see The Wild Game Guide produced by the Food Standards Agency.
Even in very cold weather, carcasses left to lie overnight may be spoiled.
Other equipment and aids
A responsible stalker should always carry:
• A telescope or binoculars for the location and correct identification of quarry. DO NOT use the rifle scope for this purpose.
• A knife of appropriate design.
• A torch, if stalking in the evening, to look for hair or blood signs.
• A bipod or sticks, of an appropriate design, to aid the standing, sitting, kneeling and prone shots.
• Access to a dog trained to locate dead or wounded deer.