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Deer Stalking is a traditional British field sport that originated in Scotland in the 19th Century. Often misunderstood; deer stalking is much more important than just a trophy hunt, and in fact, plays a vital role in the conservation of our countryside and species of wild animals. It’s a thrilling day out and a big test of patience, accuracy and your ability to stay undetected on a hunt.
Before you head out for your first deer stalk you’ll need to know exactly what deer stalking is, what you can expect on the day, how much it’ll cost you and any equipment you need to bring.
When can you go deer stalking?
This isn’t a straightforward question to answer, as it depends on the type of deer you’re after and which country you’ll be stalking in. In general, Scotland has a slightly different calendar to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are also different seasons for different genders of deer (Stags, Hinds, Bucks and Does) - as a rough guide you can usually stalk Stags of all breeds between 1st August and 30th April in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but between 1st July - 20th October in Scotland.
For a full guide on the UK deer stalking seasons, take a look at Shooting UK’s article here.
Do you need to be qualified to go deer stalking?
Although you don’t actually need a qualification or official accreditation to go on a stalk, it’s highly recommended to get your DSC Level 1 (Deer Stalking Certification) to allow you to be as effective and successful as possible. Around ⅓ of deer stalkers have their certificate, which works out at nearly 30,000 people. The course is quite detailed and covers every aspect of deer stalking you could possibly think of; a very fascinating experience for the keen shooter. You’ll be tested on everything from how to identify certain species and how to safely inspect/prepare a carcass, to how to humanely shoot a deer and prove your accuracy.
You can expect to learn more about the laws surrounding wild deer and shooting them, the range of strategies a stalker will use when hunting deer and, of course, your all-round competency with a firearm.
You can either opt to take part in a 3-day DSC course where you’ll learn everything you need to know, or you can just get stuck in with the assessment straight away. For all of the course details and how to enroll, check out the DSC1 homepage on the official British Deer Society website.
What land can you stalk deer on?
This might depend on your experience as a stalker. There are a lot of land owners, conservationists or farmers who might need assistance with managing their herds. However, most of these will only want to work with experienced stalkers to ensure they’re going to get a good job done. Regardless of your previous stalking experience it’s worth reaching out to anyone in your local area who might need some assistance. Explain what your intentions are and that you’re keen to help out where you can; being as polite as possible will obviously give you a better chance of getting a permission.
If you’re struggling to find some experience or no one will let you shoot on their land without previous exposure, you can turn to BASC to provide you with some help. BASC offer the perfect scheme to new starters who want to get some of their own exposure. They run 4 different operations across the UK that allow members to take part in stalking projects run exclusively by the British Associations. Each of their 4 locations offers different levels of stalking that require varying degrees of qualification. Some require a DSC Level 2, however others are open to people who are interested in starting their DSC 1.
For all of the important information, check out the BASC Stalking Schemes here.
Image from Arran Island Cottages
What does it cost to go deer stalking?
Usually, this will depend on the amount and quality of venison (deer meat) you’re likely to take away with you. It’s most common for a stalker and a landowner to split the worth of the venison equally; 50% each. This should be the case whether you intend to take home the entirety of the kill or not, either you’d physically split the venison and take half each, or you’d take all of it but still pay the landowner for half of what it’s worth.
An alternative to this is if you find an owner who is willing to give you a regular permission for their land, they might decide to demand an expected yearly income from you, which would be agreed before letting you shoot regularly. You’ll probably want to weigh up each situation individually here to decide if that value suits you. The size of land, size of herd and quality of venison will determine how much worth you’re going to get here.
Which rifle should I go stalking with?
Not only will you need to find a suitable rifle to stalk with, but your ammunition and you scope setup will also be vital.
The team at Shooting UK have created a perfect list of 14 rifles you could take with you deer stalking - a lot of their choices being very common models here on Gunstar. Deer vary quite significantly in size and weight, therefore the range of calibres you can shoot with is fairly large. The most popular deer stalking calibre is a .308 Win which would be powerful enough to humanely dispatch any breed of deer. However with smaller breeds such as Chinese Water Deer, you can legally use calibres down to .220 but no smaller.
BASC give you a full breakdown of the laws, rules and regulations that are in place for stalking deer. Here you’ll find a handy table of calibre limits, broken down by species and country.
Some of the most popular stalking rifles are classic bolt action favourites such as the Browning X-Bolt, Remington 700, Tikka T3 or Blaser R8, all of which you will find new or second hand for sale in our Deerstalking Rifles section.
Image from RifleShooter.com
Advice for deer stalking
Once you’re aware of everything you need to prepare yourself with, there are some key tips that will help you have a successful day out in the field:
Take in your surroundings. Many people will see this as a waste of time and rush into things, but making an effort to properly scout out the land around you will make a massive difference to your stalk. Your vantage points for taking a clean shot may be in cover or perhaps on high ground - find the best positions for both of these before you begin so that you can shoot with confidence.
Use your surroundings. Deer are very alert animals and have a great sense of hearing, so the most important thing whilst stalking is to remain silent. This won’t be possible all of the time, so what sounds can you use to suppress the noise of your movement? A gust of wind, nearby flowing water, the calls of other animals; all of these are great things to be aware of. You can use them to your advantage.
Check the weather. Although some of the elements will play in your favour, deer won’t stick around if the conditions are too bad. Make sure you can get a few hours of decent weather before committing to a stalk.
Wear appropriate clothing. This should be a fairly obvious piece of advice, but your attire should be natural in colour (dark greens or browns), warm, waterproof and not too tight. This will allow you to be effective in any situation. You need to be prepared to go prone, stay still in cold weather but also move as freely as possible.
Record your data. Remember we are shooting for the reasons of conservation and keeping a herd healthy, so you need to be able to provide landowners with details of your hunt. Where exactly you found your kill, the type of deer and it’s health condition will be vital amongst other things - check with the owner about what details he requires first.
The above is most of what you’ll need in order to understand what stalking is and how to get ready to start. There is lots of extra information out there should you need it, so keep searching and keep reading to help grow your confidence! If you do your research and stick to most of the advice out there, you’ll have a great day stalking deer and we’re sure that your first time won’t be your last time…