Tracking different deer species w/ Chris Dalton

Chris Dalton returns to Bedford – teaching his client how to track the different deer species.

In this article I cast my mind back to some training that I have been doing at Garryloop over the last 12 to 14 months. Specifically in relation to Paul, who fits into a group of like-minded people, who come to us at South Ayrshire Stalking to learn about stalking and who are interested in the full spectrum; from the basic introduction to stalking course, moving on the DSC 1 and for assistance with the FAC application for a deer legal rifle, wanting to understand all about sustainable and ethical deer management, butchery and then in to DSC 2.

Usually they will join one of our syndicates where they can put the theory and instruction into practice. Like most things you don’t really start to learn properly until you are out on your own, when the decision making process is all on your shoulders.

Paul is now pretty much retired; he has an interest in a number of businesses but has backed off from the day to day running of them. Currently he spends his time between India – where he races off-road trucks – to progressing his deer stalking enthusiasm with us.

He has time available and so has crammed an awful lot into a relatively short period of time, and having taken his DSC 1 over six months ago has been out on accompanied stalks frequently since then.

I have done numerous gralloching demonstrations on both red and roe for him; he has shot a good number of both and is really now getting close to doing some witnessed outings.

His stalking and field craft is very good – better than most. I have watched him stalking into hinds in the woodland to really close quarters and he is safe and competent with the rifle.

That took a little more time to master but as he now has his own rifle that’s easier, essentially you can set the rifle up to suit you, get the sling adjustment to fit and the scope in the correct position for your eye.

One area he needed to just refine was his gralloching, but he was pretty close to mastering this. He did struggle with placing deer into age and sex class and this needed work.

I appreciate that when you have not had time or maybe the opportunity to study deer over a long period it is not easy, and as one of the key areas in DSC 2 – which after all is by definition a ‘Deer Management Qualification’ – then we needed to work on that.

One of the reasons I wanted to cover Paul’s progress is that invariably folk coming to us for DSC 2 ask, “When do you think I will be ready?”, or “This is what I have done – am I ready?” Difficult questions to answer, but usually I feel that you will know when you are ready.

I seem to recall, although it is a long time ago now, that when I started driving it was all very difficult and I had to think when to change gear and work through everything – but during this learning phase suddenly it starts to click, and you begin to find the whole process much easier as it falls into place. DSC 2 is much the same.

An ideal opportunity to really progress and cover these areas was on a trip down south, where I take a team down to Paul Childerley for a week each year to assist with the bulk of the Chinese Water Deer cull after the game shooting season has finished.

It is a short window when you consider the length of the CWD season. The first half of the week we are down with Phil, close to Hitchin, and for the second half we move up to Bedford for CWD. It would give Paul the chance to shoot three species of deer he had not yet hunted – Fallow, CWD and Muntjac.

At the same time as there are good numbers of all three species here, and so should be ample opportunity to get some ‘hands on’ practical experience, I also try to get some of the action on film for The Shooting Show. Apart from a few stalks during the week I would concentrate on Paul and my plan was to let him lead the stalk and I briefed him accordingly.

Down here we don’t gralloch in the field, but take the deer to the larder for Childers’ team to process. It is a populated area and so it’s a sensible rule. However, Childers allows me to let candidates gralloch when I am training or witnessing, but we have clear guidelines for disposing of the gralloch.

I also wanted Paul to point out to me the deer he was observing and on each occasion tell me what age and sex class he was looking at – a week of looking at three species of deer he was not familiar with would, I hope, really tune his eye in.

Plan set; possibly a little unfair on him to spring a camera following us around without prior warning, but he took it well and didn’t whinge. A nice morning, we were off from Shoot HQ before the light came up.

I have my own patch here, the ground is under the Luton airport flight path so it’s noisy, but I know the lay of the land and headed off to stalk a thick copse of brambles which carpet a narrow strip of mixed conifer and broadleaf.

Shooting solo is a great way to learn

Muntjac love it and in the morning you will often catch them in a small grass field that bounds it. If not, we continue, and work down to where the wood becomes a thinner margin for maybe 300 yards and then joins a broadleaf wood in a sheltered dip, which is bounded by two large fields which had oilseed rape emerging. This is also a good place to find muntjac but the fallow seem to favour it and I have over the years shot many of them here.

Paul led and missed spotting a few muntjac, but that is only to be expected as he had not stalked them before. We were quickly in fallow alley and true to form we had only reached the tip of this strip when a small group of fallow ran across the field 250 yards below us.

Entering the trees in the dip, I guessed they would settle here to feed. Paul had spotted them and slowly stalked down through the trees using the sparse cover.

After maybe 50 yards, I would say he was not glassing enough. I could see two does browsing through a gap in the branches, and the fallow were unaware of us and there was at least another eight I could not see.

Then a pricket appeared, working up the wood towards us – I turned and checked Graeme had seen it and had the camera set – I got squared up against the trunk of large beech and waited. I could have warned Paul but that was not the objective.

He needed to learn, so I waited. Paul moved slowly forward and was then confronted by a fallow walking towards him. He briefly turned and looked at me as if to say ‘what do I do now?’ I shrugged and he turned back and paused. I could almost see the mental cogs whirring as he tried to work out a plan with a fallow on a collision course.

What followed was hilarious. Paul just did not know what to do – he started to set the long sticks, decided against it, started to move, decided against it, started to set the bipod, changed his mind, then moved the rifle to use the tree he was leaning on as a rest.

By now – with a fallow looking at him from maybe 40 yards – it had decided something was not quite right and exited stage left at speed along with a dozen others. It was a real learning curve; we have all been there.

What I didn’t realise was that all of this was all captured on camera, and I don’t just mean Paul’s indecision. I was in shot too, although I didn’t know it! If you watch my reaction to all of this as it unfolds it’s quite funny. 

As an aside, Paul did well for the rest of the week. We debriefed this scenario, after which he went on to shoot a number of deer, including his first of each the deer species available on this trip and a trophy CWD.This trip will have given Paul some valuable experience in the areas he needed.

You can see more of the action on The Shooting Show channel. (

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Posted in Features, Hunting

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