Deer stalking is a tricky business, but with the right training and a DSC you’ll be eating venison in no time, says Chris Dalton
I started stalking just as it seemed to gain momentum, and there was a real national interest in getting involved. It seemed to coincide with an increase in the distribution of deer across the country, which must have had something to do with it, but clearly there were many other factors at work. If you believe the results of surveys done by some of the sporting organisations in recent years, then demand for stalking continues to grow at quite a pace. I found from my own experience of coming from a rough and game shooting background that it was quite difficult to get into stalking unless you were fortunate enough to have family connections, land with deer present or a mate who was stalker and willing to take you out. As I had none of these, my route at that time was to do a DSC 1 and then join a syndicate. It worked, but it certainly wasn’t ideal. I spent most of the first year walking round the woods, not finding deer, and on the odd occasion when I did spot one it was a white backside bouncing away into the undergrowth. I eventually started to get the hang of it by making just about every mistake I could – and you could argue that that is not a bad way to learn! Anyhow, that is primarily why one of the first packages I offered at South Ayrshire Stalking was an Introduction to Stalking (a course as popular now as it was 10 years ago).
Why I am mentioning this? Because in my career as a professional stalker, the questions I get asked the most are all about how to get into stalking, how to get access to land and how to go about getting a rifle. I spend more time discussing these issues now than I ever did before, and the demand for our introductory courses continues. While I do not want to get into the policies of different police firearms departments, and I do not claim to be an expert in such matters, I deal with many of the firearms departments’ processing applications for grants of FACs for deer legal rifles on a regular basis. I think I can, therefore, offer practical advice on the best way to tackle the process, making it as painless as possible.
To stalk on your own you need a rifle, and to get a rifle you need an FAC. The two main steps to achieving this are firstly to demonstrate competence in the use of the rifle and an awareness of the legal and safety aspects involved, and secondly to provide good reason for wanting the thing in the first place. Put these two elements in place and you should have no problems (I am assuming you have no criminal record of note, and I don’t mean speeding points).
Let’s look at training first. There are various options here, although ultimately the police will want you to have completed your Deer Stalking Certificate level 1 (DSC1). This assessment includes: a range test, a safety assessment, a visual test, two multiple-choice papers, a general paper and a large game handling paper.
Again, there are a number of ways to achieve this. On one hand, you can attend the full blown four-day course, which takes you through everything in a classroom environment and usually has around 10-14 candidates at a time. On the other, you can self prepare and simply attend the assessment.
At Garryloop we prefer to do a mix of the two, usually with a maximum of four candidates, which allows more instructor attention and a slightly more relaxed environment. Our candidates self prepare and we do a revision/training afternoon the day before the assessment. This works very well for us, and produces a high pass rate. The DSC is a recognised qualification and you will need to put the work in to pass: it is not open book, but a fair and honest assessment – despite what you may hear!
We increasingly find that folk want to do the Introduction to Stalking course either a month or two before their DSC or at the same time, thereby combining the practical elements of stalking with the more formal training and qualification aspects. It also ticks most boxes a firearms enquiry officer will be looking at before deciding on your suitability for a firearm, and certainly demonstrates your commitment. Most importantly, you get practical advice and extensive knowledge of all different aspects of stalking and the law. I would have gained a lot from such instruction in my early days, and would certainly have had some venison in the freezer a lot sooner!
Now to tackle the ‘good reason’ for owning your deer rifle. These days, firearms staff will want you to have permission to stalk ground on a frequent basis. Not so long ago, when it would have been acceptable to pay for the odd day. The ideal scenario is therefore to have permission to shoot on a suitable area of land with deer on it. This isn’t easy to achieve for any kind of shooting, and even more difficult in the case of deer. If you can offer your services to a farmer who is having a problem with deer then you are indeed fortunate, especially as an inexperienced stalker learning your trade. Be persistent and don’t be disheartened: if you don’t ask you don’t get! With a polite approach, you never know, you might just be in the right place at the right time. Better still, if a personal introduction through a contact or friend is possible, be sure to take advantage of it. You can also join local shoots, and offers to help the keeper or estate owner with pen building or the like can occasionally result in stalking opportunities. A more realistic option is to join a stalking syndicate; you will see quite a few of these advertised in the sporting press. Price varies massively, and be very wary: there are cowboys out there trying to make a fast buck. I would certainly ask around before parting with your money – speak to an existing member and go and have a look around first. I still hear of syndicates being advertised as five rifles when in reality there are 35 – you have been warned!
The above is given as a general guide: individual circumstances will vary and different rules may apply. I deal with firearms staff across the country on a regular basis and find them to be, in the main, a very helpful breed. None of the people that I have assisted through this process – of which there are many – have ever had cause to complain. I also find that with somewhere to use the rifle and a confirmation of booking for a DSC 1, most forces will grant an FAC so that you may use your own gun for your DSC range assessment. Good luck and get on with it: the opportunities are out there if you fancy stalking, and it’s not nearly as difficult as you think!