Essential co-operation

Proper communication with other stalkers isn’t just good manners – it’s a vital part of your safety routine, says David Barrington Barnes

That summer morning I walked the road from the farm before it was light and then stalked Railway Spinney, which gave me observation points between the rows of young trees. Often a good spot, it was deer-clear, so I made to cross the road into Long Meadow. Roadside bushes and scrub blocked my view into this and I was, to put it mildly, shocked to bump into a deer stalker who emerged from it on to the road. We quite literally came face to face.

In the ensuing conversation I learned that this man was a farm worker whom the landowner had recently given permission to shoot deer. I did not know this. A few weeks later, I found a high seat that had been put up by (presumably) this man.

Reviewing this incident, I thought then and think now that having two stalkers out on the same ground in the half light of a summer morning is, at best, poor practice and, at worst, an awful accident waiting to happen. I had not been informed by either the landowner or his employee that the latter would be stalking over the land that I had stalked for many years. I was therefore in no way to blame for the encounter. Had I spotted a movement in Long Meadow, which I would have done a few moments later when it came into my view, the avoidance of a ‘blue on blue’ would have depended on my self-discipline in identification. Had he seen me or my shape first, the same would have applied to him.

If you’ve not been informed of other stalkers on the ground, everything rests on your observation and judgement

Accounts of hunting mishaps show that the offending hunter may respond to movements rather than what he really should be seeing. There is some evidence that wearing a yellow jacket can catch the attention of such an idiot instead of protecting the wearer. There are recorded cases (in New Zealand) of shots being taken at dead deer suspended vertically from the branch of a tree. Also at gralloched deer, with the head and legs removed, being carried out Kiwi-style on the shoulders of a successful hunter. I kid you not! When people with rifles forsake due care and attention, there is an ever-present danger of accidents.

Thinking on about this, I concluded that the other stalker had caused this dangerous incident and potentially others by sheer bad manners. He knew perfectly well that I stalked the land from seeing me and from my high seats. He only had to contact me to say that he had permission to stalk it too, and I would have suggested a flag or similar system so that each of us knew when the other was out. To do as he did and just start stalking the land was bad manners, bad practice and bad safety. Possibly he was just bad-mannered, but had he done a stalking course one can only hope the syllabus included a section on what a stalker should do on being granted a new permission, particularly when the ground concerned is already being stalked. If not, there is the unfortunate and potentially dangerous prospect of such incidents as the one described above being replicated by newly ‘qualified’ stalkers seeking opportunities.

I can demonstrate that this is not just alarmist talk by citing another example. This concerns a farm comprising just three large arable fields and otherwise devoid of cover, so only occasionally visited by deer. I obtained permission to stalk this farm, the real value of which was that on certain winds it gave me favourable stalking access to another adjacent and well-wooded farm, which was home to roe and muntjac. Recently I encountered the arable farm owner who informed me he had given permission to shoot deer on his farm to a friend “who had recently done a stalking course”. I understood that the friend would contact me, which contact I presumed was to enable us to say hello and, more important, devise a safe system of operating.

High seats are a clear sign that someone else is shooting deer in this location

Weeks later I had heard nothing from the tyro stalker. There was no contact at all even though my contact details were known. I was unhappy about this for several reasons. First, I think it’s damn bad manners to seek permission to stalk on land already being stalked without reference to the resident stalker. Secondly, it’s plain dangerous to start stalking on ground already being stalked without contacting the resident stalker and devising a safety plan. Thirdly, I understood from the landowner that this man had just done a course. Could it really be the case that his instructors did not deal with this sort of issue? If they did, and he ignored their teaching, then his Deer Management Qualification should be revoked, as should his Firearms Certificate. If one cannot follow such instructions then it’s only so long before they cause a danger to someone.

Another encounter followed my sight of a stalker poaching in one of my woods. He was wearing all the right gear with the shine still on it if not the price tags. His cock-and- bull story explaining his illegal actions did not convince, and by the time we parted company I realised he had no understanding of the dreadful risk he had put us both at. We might easily have come upon each other in thick cover from opposite ends of my wood.

You would have had to see it to believe it! These are recent, current examples of bad manners and bad practice by novice stalkers. I can’t believe I am the only established stalker to have experienced incidents such as those I have described. One only has to review the large number of courses certificating novice stalkers to realise that there must be a great many inexperienced stalkers seeking their own stalking who really require to be mentored in all aspects of both sporting stalking and deer management. I don’t want to shoot another stalker, nor do I want to be shot. Sharing the stalking ground without notifying the other stalker(s) increases the risk of this happening, either by a direct shooting or a ricochet.

So it’s worse than just bad etiquette – it’s a serious problem that we cannot allow to happen. Private-land deer managers have problems enough arising from unauthorised public access without being undermined by inexperienced stalkers apparently devoid of good manners or good practice – or both.

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