Deer stalking Code of Practice

1. Introduction

This Code of Practice has been produced to provide an introductory guide to deer stalking. Although much of the code is applicable to stalking in the Highlands, it has been written primarily with the lowland woodland stalker in mind.

High standards underpin public and political support for shooting, now and in the future.

The code provides advice at two levels:
Advice that must be followed in order to deliver sustainable stalking – unless otherwise stated the term ‘must’ only applies to meeting the standards set by this Code of Practice and does not refer to a legal obligation.

Advice that should be followed in order to achieve Best Practice, any deviation from which would need justification.

The following Golden Rules apply:
1. The safe conduct of deer stalking must meet the standards described in this code and show respect for the countryside, due regard to health and safety and consideration for others.
2. 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.
3. Always remember that your quarry has a strong emotive appeal to many people who have little knowledge of deer management. They will judge deer management by your behaviour.
4. Remember – ignorance of the law is no excuse. If in doubt, always ask.

2. Behaviour in the field

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.

Carcass handling
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.

3. Statutory open seasons for deer

Species and sexEngland & WalesScotlandNorthern Ireland
StagsAug 1st – April 30thJuly 1st – Oct 20thAug 1st – April 30th
HindsNov 1st – Mar 31Oct 21st – Feb 15thNov 1st – Mar 31
StagsAug 1st – April 30thJuly 1st – Oct 20thAug 1st – April 30th
HindsNov 1st – Mar 31stOct 21st – Feb 15thNov 1st – Mar 31st
Red/sika hybrids
StagsAug 1st – April 30thJuly 1st – Oct 20thAug 1st – April 30th
HindsNov 1st – Mar 31stOct 21st – Feb 15thNov 1st – Mar 31st
BucksAug 1st – April 30thAug 1st – April 30thAug 1st – April 30th
DoesNov 1st – Mar 31stOct 21st – Feb 15thNov 1st – Mar 31st
BucksApril 1st – Oct 31stApril 1st – Oct 20th
DoesNov 1st – Mar 31stOct 21st – March 31st
Chinese water deer
BucksNov 1st – Mar 31st
DoesNov 1st– Mar 31st
There is no statutory closed season for this species. It is recommended that when culling female muntjac, immature or heavily pregnant does are selected to avoid leaving dependent young.

4. The Law

The law regarding the killing and taking of deer differs throughout the UK. The legislation in both Scotland and Northern Ireland is different from that governing England and Wales. In summary, there follows some of the more important provisions, but this is NOT to be taken as a complete or authoritative statement of the law. **

Although the Deer Acts and Orders contain exceptions, particularly to allow occupiers to protect their crops (certain conditions apply) from damage, and to permit mercy killing of an animal to prevent suffering, you must NOT:

• Use anything except legal firearms to kill deer.
• Shoot deer out of season unless authorised to do so.
• Shoot at night (one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise) except under licence.
• Shoot from a moving vehicle, or use a vehicle to drive deer (vehicle includes aircraft).
• Sell venison in Northern Ireland, except to a licensed game dealer.
• Sell venison in Scotland, except to a licensed venison dealer.

** In Scotland there is currently a general authorisation which allows occupiers suffering damage to improved agricultural land or enclosed woodland to control deer in the close season. Female deer over 12 months old may not be killed under this general authorisation during the period 1 April to 31 August. Further details can be obtained from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Firearms and ammunition
You must only use a rifle and ammunition which are legal for the species of deer being shot. In addition to compliance with the law you should be guided by knowledge, experience and personal preference in your choice of rifle and ammunition. The legal requirements are laid down in the several Deer Acts.

 Species Min bullet weight Calibre Min muzzle energy
 Eng & Wales – Not less than .240 inches 1,700 foot pounds
 Scotland100 grains – 1,750 foot pounds (min muzzle velocity 2,450 feet per second)
 N Ireland 100 grains Not less than .236 inches 1,700 foot pounds
 Eng & Wales  – Not less than .240 inches 1,700 foot pounds
 Scotland 100 grains – 1,750 foot pounds (min muzzle velocity 2,450 feet per second)
 N Ireland 100 grains Not less than .236 inches 1,700 foot pounds
 Eng & WalesNot less than .240 inches1,700 foot pounds
 Scotland100 grains1,750 foot pounds (min muzzle velocity 2,450 feet per second)
 N Ireland100 grainsNot less than .236 inches1,700 foot pounds
 Eng & WalesNot less than .240 inches1,700 foot pounds
 Scotland50 grains1,000 foot pounds (min muzzle velocity 2,450 feet per second)
 Chinese water deer    
 Eng & Wales50 grainsNot less than .220 inches1,000 foot pounds
 Eng & Wales50 grainsNot less than .220 inches1,000 foot pounds

It must be stressed that all these figures are the minimum legal requirement. For all deer stalking the bullet must be of a type designed to expand/deform on impact.

5. Training

You should aim to gain knowledge and experience both in the practice of stalking, and in the ecology of the deer. This can be gained either through recognised training courses, the guidance of an experienced stalker or a combination of both. You can demonstrate a level of competence through the attainment of the Deer Stalking Certificates 1 and 2 available from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and the British Deer Society (BDS), as well as other training organisations.

BASC and the BDS provide a wide range of training related to deer and firearms use. Consult their websites for further information.

6. Insurance

It is advisable to have adequate legal liability (third party) insurance when stalking. Membership of BASC and the BDS currently offers various insurance options. Contact the individual organisations for further details.

7. Further information

The sector’s ideal is that all who stalk conduct themselves according to the law and to the highest standards of safety, sportsmanship and courtesy, with full respect for the deer and a practical interest in wildlife conservation and the countryside.

This Code of Practice was produced jointly by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the British Deer Society.

The British Association for Shooting & Conservation
Marford Mill
LL12 0HL
Tel: 01244 573 000
The British Deer Society
The Walled Garden, Burgate Manor
Tel: 01425 655 434

For more detailed information best practice guidance can be found at:

Scottish Natural Heritage
Great Glen House
Leachkin Road
Inverness IV3 8NW
Tel: 01463 725000
The Deer Initiative
PO Box 2196
LL14 6YH
Tel: 08707 743 677

Deer stalking Code of Practice

Related pages

Transport of Beaters Code of Practice

Transport of beaters Code of Practice One area of shoot management which does not always receive sufficient consideration is the transportation of shoot personnel – Guns, beaters, pickers-up, etc. Quite often, adequate arrangements are made for transporting the Guns (often their own four wheel drive vehicles) but on many shoots

Disruption of shoots by demonstrators

Disruption of shoots by demonstrators The Law Shooting, properly carried out, is a lawful activity Aggravated trespass On private land it is a criminal offence (aggravated trespass) to obstruct or disrupt anyone pursuing a lawful activity. It is also an offence to intimidate someone so as to deter them from

Shotgun Safety Code of Practice

Shotgun Safety Code of Practice The most important rule of gun handling…… NEVER POINT A GUN, LOADED OR UNLOADED, IN AN UNSAFE DIRECTION. It is estimated that there are more than 1.5 million shotguns legally held in Great Britain, the vast majority of which are used in a safe and

Stalking schemes