Heavy snowfall often means the stalking rifle is left in the cabinet, but for those of us with time-sapping work commitments, every opportunity to be out with the rifle and keep up with one’s cull plan must be taken – so let’s look at the practicalities of stalking in the snow.
When the white stuff comes in thick and fast and the forecast says the snow is set to stay, the roe stalker faces a real dilemma: To stalk or not to stalk? Much will depend on where he/she is with regards to the doe cull quota, but we must never lose sight of the ethical considerations.
Roe deer behaviour changes in cold conditions, and if this is coupled with snow, they tend not to move too much to save expending precious energy. They will more often sit it out and wait until browse is uncovered.
Of course this is an extreme example, and deer will move (but not as much) in cold or snowy conditions. Pushing deer around too much in these conditions, though, is quite obviously on the debit side of the ledger when it comes to ethical deer management.
However, when the thaw sets in, it is a different story – much activity will be seen, and the stalker can capitalise on this and catch up with his/her cull.
Likewise, before the hard weather comes you may see much activity, and in the cold months you may see all the family bevvies of roe herd up to capitalise on a food source. It is a rare sight to see roe herding behaviour, but I have witnessed it.
It should go without saying, but a reminder won’t be amiss: selecting the yearlings is paramount. Orphaning yearlings in such conditions is folly – they will need the doe to see them through the harsh conditions, so it’s much better to take the followers.
The first consideration the stalker must address at all times is safety.
Having a charged mobile phone with you, preferably in a waterproof case, is a must, as is letting someone know where you are stalking, the proposed routes and time you plan to return.
In addition, I always carry a map and compass. Even the low ground can get disorientating in a blizzard, and confidence in your direction is very comforting.
Fit-for-purpose clothing is often overlooked. You will be moving slowly so you shouldn’t sweat up – go for the fleece and the extra base layer. You can always take off or vent a garment if you become too warm – better that than wishing you had another layer when the shivers set in. A neck gaiter or scrim scarf is an easy accessory to slip in a pocket and will help to keep the heat in, and in windy conditions you will realise the value of storm cuffs.
There’s a lot of great clothing out there that is fit for purpose, and it will be down to personal choice, but practicality must be the primary consideration as your safety may depend on it if conditions deteriorate.
Obviously in snow, your normal green/camo attire will make you stand out like the proverbial turd on a billiard table, but an oversized white decorator’s overall will be a cost-effective answer to provide adequate camouflage for you to blend into the winter wonderland. There isn’t really a need to go and duplicate your kit in winter camo pattern, though many do (me included).
Fuel from within
A warm flask, a sandwich and a bar of chocolate will keep you in the field longer and could be a real lifesaver in the event of being stranded. If you’re warm within, you will find it easier to keep your core temperature up, which means you will have more time in the high seat and subsequently more chance of success.
Snow comes in many forms, and fresh fallen soft powder is no real disadvantage as long as one moves carefully and spreads the weight carefully at each step. On the contrary, drifted snow with an ice crust is akin to walking on lightbulbs, but in these conditions knowing one’s ground is everything. A running dyke – if it’s shallow enough with a gravel bottom – may enable you to get into a strategic position; likewise, a road or track that has been hard packed by vehicle use may be suitable to stalk down quietly, but be aware of the slipping hazard.
Deer don’t like the wind. It dulls/confuses one of their most important senses – hearing – and the stalker can use this to his/her advantage, a strongish wind will cover some noise such as snow crunch. Equally, in a cold wind you will find the deer lying on the lee side of the hedge, and if drifted snow is about, they will often be tucked in behind the drifts – so softly, softly and much glassing is the order of approach if you are to maximise your chances of a kill.
Stalking in the snow can be a rewarding and successful experience if ethical considerations allow one to engage. Better to be out with the rifle on the ground and maximise one’s chances – all time spent in the field is a good investment in deer management. Even if you don’t engage or even see a deer, you will see changes in movement and habits. The snow will tell you a lot, not least what foxes you have on the ground, and indeed the presence or visits of two-legged predators, too. Safety considerations must be given serious thought, but if adhered to all will be well.
There is something magical and challenging about stalking in the snowy linen land of a British winter – yes, the chances of success are much more limited but with a little thought, one can maximise chances, and you know exactly how many deer you will put in the larder if you chose the slippers option by the fire. If ethical conditions allow it, take the rifle for a walk – you never know what you’re gonna get.