It is your responsibility to know, and understand, the laws and Best Practice guidance relating to deer stalking. In particular, you must be able to identify deer by species, sex and age class and to know when and where it is safe and legal to shoot.
- Positively identify your target.
- The rifle you are using is capable of killing over great distances and every shot taken must be safe.
- Always ensure that there is a solid backstop (that will catch any bullet fragments) behind the deer before taking the shot.
- Make sure that you have an uninterrupted view of the foreground.
- Always check that the line of shot is unobstructed.
- Shooting from a high seat may provide a safer backstop at shorter ranges as you are shooting downwards. Rifles must always be unloaded before climbing in and out of a high seat.
- Always check the bore of your rifle is clear of any obstruction before loading or if there is the slightest possibility that it has become fouled with mud or snow.
- Adopt a regular, safe routine for loading, carrying and unloading the rifle. If the rifle is to be carried loaded, do not load until you are about to commence stalking. Apply the safety catch and do not release it until you are about to take the shot.
- In some situations, the rifle may be carried ‘underloaded’ (i.e. with the bolt closed on an empty chamber, over a full magazine) while stalking, and a cartridge chambered only before the final approach to the deer.
- Always ensure that the rifle is pointing in a safe direction and be constantly aware of where your barrel is pointing.
- Always unload your rifle:
- as soon as you have finished active stalking;
- as soon as you have confirmed the deer is dead, and before processing the carcass;
- before entering a house, other building, or vehicle;
- before ascending/descending a high seat;
- when crossing an obstacle;
- when meeting third parties while stalking;
- when handing it to another person.
If it is necessary to leave a rifle in a locked vehicle, ensure that it is out of sight. Always 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 for the land on which you are stalking.
Zeroing the rifle
To ensure safe and humane shooting, the rifle, scope and mounts must be correctly assembled, and you must check at regular intervals that your rifle is zeroed correctly, i.e. that the bullet is striking a selected point of aim at a chosen range, using the ammunition that you intend to stalk with.
You must practise and maintain your skill with the rifle, and check at regular intervals that your rifle is still zeroed correctly. The site at which you test your rifle must be safe, with clear sightlines and a backstop that will absorb all bullets, fragments and debris over a number of shots.
The rifle must be checked for zero after a hard knock or impact, after any unaccountable miss, when a new type of ammunition is used, or if the rifle has not been shot for a prolonged period. No one should continue stalking if rifle zero is in doubt.
While zeroing the rifle it may be beneficial to practise shooting at varying distance of both shorter than, and up to perhaps twice, your normal zero distance. If practising a very short-range humane dispatch shot, be aware that the bullet will generally strike lower than your point of aim and take great care to minimise the risk of ‘splashback’ of bullet fragments and other debris.
Aiming and spotting devices
Thermal spotters are very useful for finding heat sources but do not rely on that image alone as a reason to shoot. Binoculars or a telescope (if appropriate) should be the main means of identifying your quarry. DO NOT use any rifle aiming device for this purpose.
The legislation on the use of thermal and night vision rifle scopes varies between countries. In England and Wales the use of a thermal imaging or night vision scope on your rifle to take deer during the day is not prohibited. In Scotland, it is illegal to use a thermal imaging or night vision scope on your rifle to take deer at any time under the Deer (Firearms etc.) (Scotland) Order 1985 ( s 5 (b)). The same goes for Northern Ireland under The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, Section 12: 2 (d) (v), which prohibits the use of thermal or night vision scopes for the shooting of Red, Fallow and Sika deer. If you have been granted a licence by the relevant authority to shoot deer at night, it will be clearly specified what rifle aiming device is permitted.
Consideration for the deer
Although deer are relatively large animals, the vital areas for humane and clean kills are small. No one should consider culling deer unless they can consistently shoot a group of three shots within a 10cm target at 100m.
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. Be aware of the legal aspects should an injured deer cross a boundary.
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, either in front of or in a wide zone behind your target. Never fire at a deer unless you are absolutely sure that it is well within your capabilities.
The recommended shot is to the chest, as this is a larger vital area containing both the heart and lungs and a shot here will ensure a quick and humane kill.
The brain and spine are very small and mobile targets and for this reason head and neck shots should be avoided under normal stalking circumstances.
Under normal circumstances, you should not take a shot at a running deer (but see humane dispatch below). If in doubt over any shot, then do not fire.
Do not shoot in very poor light, especially in the evenings.
Before the shot, mark the position of the deer by reference to some adjacent feature, such as a bush, tree or rock, and then, if the deer runs off into cover you know where to start the follow-up.
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 may 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, mark it, and search for signs such as hair and blood. The signs at the ‘strike’ will give a good indication of whether or where the deer is hit and how you should follow it up. Always follow any blood trail slowly, trying not to disturb it. If at any stage you see signs of or feel that the deer is lost and possibly mobile, it is best to mark the last sign found, leave the area rather than disturb it further, then return with a trained dog.
Stalkers should own or have access to a dog trained to locate dead or wounded deer but steady to other wildlife. Tracking organisations and individuals are available to assist (links to organisations that provide this service can be found on the BASC and BDS websites).
When following up, be prepared to shoot again, if necessary, as long as it is safe, but remember that at a close range the bullet will strike below the point of aim.
A head shot is recommended for humane dispatch at very close range.
If the animal is static at longer ranges, take a chest shot but bear in mind the likely position of vital organs if the animal is lying down.
A shot at a moving deer may be acceptable when attempting to dispatch an already wounded animal but extreme care must be taken. If in doubt over any shot, then do not fire.