A view to a kill

Niall Rowantree

(Will public perception be the end of us all?)

For many keen deerstalkers the months of April and May see the start of the Roe deer stalking season and for professional deer stalkers, brings in clients from Europe and other parts of the world.  This is the start of our annual deer harvest. 

I do not think it is necessary when talking about public perceptions to overly rehearse the arguments about keeping deer in balance with the range of desired habitats, preventing their conflict with agriculture and woodland and removing them from areas where they present a risk to the public as most hunters understand these points.  The fact that deer provide an absolutely sustainable food source that is high in essential oils and vitamins and provides a healthy uncontaminated meat should further secure their place in our landscape and our role as hunters.

Unfortunately, I feel that we have recently seen a development in anti-hunting tactics which seems to drive at separating the activity heavily banded around, especially by the media, as ‘trophy hunting’ from hunting as a form of culling activity.  Any well managed population will produce sufficient surplus males to allow a marketable cull which can economically secure the wellbeing of the population and harvesting genetically inferior or aged males passed their breeding age is entirely ethical and sustainable. 

The UK is not the only country to get caught up in this furore which has the potential to damage rural economies such as Africa where economics play a huge role in the conservation in species.   Undoubtedly, African countries that have a hunting economy alongside tourism economy as part of their tourism economy as a whole, have been enormously successful in protecting and expanding their wildlife.  It brings real income into the hands of people who are face to face with wildlife on a daily basis and the loss of this income would bring huge economic impacts.  Pro hunting countries such as Namibia have been so successful in this.  For example, they have taken the black Rhino from near extinction in the 1960’s to the largest free ranging population in the world.  At the same time, they have achieved success with their Cheetah and Leopard populations and are an example to many.  They have also taken their elephant population from a mere 7,500 in 1995 to over 22,000 to date. 

As a result of their conservation success, they have practically tripled their wildlife numbers in many cases and have focused right in through Government policy on managing human/wildlife conflict.  It seems incredulous to me that western society finds themselves, through social media, in a positon to feel that they can look down their noses at nations that have collaboratively demonstrated a wise use of natural resources.  The success of Namibia has been that it has tailor made its conservation methods and married these with the needs of the people and in doing so, have managed to demonstrate significant strides forward. 

Back at home, however, the activities that we all enjoy have come under the microscope in a way that I have not experienced before in my career.  It will be a challenge to all of us who enjoy the privilege of managing natural resources and providing food for our own table to avoid the interference of individuals seeking to end what you do or push toward legislation that in the long term will threaten the nature that for so long, we have taken for granted and in so doing, destroy the very fabric of our remote communities.

Britain has one of the highest levels of urban dwelling communities of any European country and the urban/rural disconnect, no doubt, plays a huge role in whipping up public opinion to be anti-field sports. 

Many of us have experienced this first hand, particularly those bringing in visiting hunters that shoot Red, Roe and other species and certainly last year, saw an almost incredible outpouring of anger and disbelief following on high profile culling of a feral goat.  This took many of us by surprise particularly as the Scottish Government and its agencies have made it a priority to reduce the impacts of alien non-native (feral) species and to seek their removal by both their policies and actions. 

In our own instance, it has led to multiple death threats along with other lengthy forms of abuse.  Interestingly, though Government spent a lot of time and effort looking into the hunting activities, there was virtually no interest shown in following up any threats.  To set the context, far from being unusual, more than 20,000 red stags are culled every Autumn in Scotland and probably around 200 Billy Goats, one is a native species which has been managed for thousands of years by the Highland people and is a huge supporter of our rural people both economically and socially and the other, the Goat, although designated an alien non-native has certainly been part of the highland scene since the Bronze age.  So we are left asking what is intrinsically different in public perception between a paid government marksman shooting an animal as part of a cull and a blonde American lady shooting an animal as part of a cull. 

Economically, it is quite easy to draw a conclusion, currently Government marksmen operate over large swathes of the public estate culling animals at the tax payers expense for a figure of north of 6 million pound per year in Scotland with limited local benefit with contractors frequently travelling in fairly large distances and shooting large percentages of their cull out of season and at night.  Whereas, visiting hunters staying in local hotels, spend money in local shops and are prepared to pay fairly high figures for animals that they wish to collect and are available due to managed surplices. 

So having rehearsed the economic argument, I feel very quickly that we get to the issue that it is fairly easy to make the need for the case for control be it any wild, native or feral non-native mammal and though there may be perception challenges in the public’s mind, the north American mink and the Goat are equally non-native to our landscapes and require management and control to prevent negative impacts.  So I think it comes down to the perception of the word ‘trophy’.  Having looked at the term ‘trophy’, we can see that the Romans looked at the word as a emblem of success or achievement and in modern times, connected to game, it has taken on a whole new meaning being referred to frequently on the internet as ‘hunting of a wild game animal for human recreation’.  Interesting, the shooting community in the UK has made no effort up to this stage to identify what a trophy is or indeed what it is not, whether it may be a child with his or her first rabbit or a visiting hunter with his dreamed of Scottish stag.  Though undoubtedly to both, the memory is equally important. 

Over the years, I have probably taken thousands of photographs of visiting sportsmen with their Stags, Roe bucks, Hinds and most of these have been kept by the individual as a memento of an occasion that they cherish.  I think the fundamental difference today is the rise of the grip and grin photograph on social media.  It is almost worrying now that people cannot wait even when up the side of a remote Scottish mountain to share their success to the world through social media platforms whether they wish to see it or not and at the risk of being on the receiving end of a storm, I think this is where change is required.  I do not think that we require legislation to highlight what we should or should not share or to penalise outfitters or Estates when perhaps a simple attention to what is acceptable to the wider public or not is used as a barometer.  I think before posting or sharing, remember the words of the poet and bard Robbie Burns, ‘Oh the gift that god should give us to see ourselves as others see us’. 

Enjoy your Roe buck season, support your local farming community by controlling problem foxes, be ambassadors in what you believe in and work together to secure our future.  

RABBITS GALORE

Bob Spain

Over the past ten to fifteen years, my brother and I have been very lucky to have two good back country farms to shoot on. The farms boast deer and pigs among their bounty, which is a boost to have venison and pork on the menu.

Rabbits however are in very big numbers, there has been no problem in the past to shoot up to eight hundred in a day. That’s a good days shooting. On an average day however, we would shoot about four to five hundred between us. On a lesser day we would shoot between fifty to two hundred each.

The weather has a big part to play, as rabbits, like all animals, you get a night’s rain turning nice and fine come morning, with no wind, rabbits come out of their burrows to get the sun.

During spring time all the young ones are coming out of their holes five to six in groups and having not been shot at before, they are very easy to shoot. It’s possible to pick off the ones far from the burrow, and work back most times shooting the lot.

The rifle I use is a bolt action Brno model one, fitted with a clamp on suppressor.

I like the Remington subsonic 22 ammunition hollow point and also use three ten shot mags as required. Most rabbits are shot at ranges between thirty to eighty yds. Although it’s a bit of a job to load mags when the shooting gets hot.

Sunday 6th September 2020, just a morning shoot with my brother. He dropped me off at the start of the farm and I was to follow up to him to meet at midday. I was in the area the Sunday before, after deer and saw a lot of rabbits so went back.

The weather was not good, with a very strong north westerly wind, when I could get out of the wind my first twenty shots dropped twenty rabbits which I was pleased with. I followed up, shooting in sheltered places which was good. Some of the rabbits were calm and relaxed, sitting down at spots out of the wind I would pick off ten to fifteen at a time.

Most of the rabbits were fully grown, with the young ones not far off.  As I approached the meet up point, I tried to pick up sheltered spots here and there, upon reaching my brother I had shot one hundred and fifty rabbits in total.  I use a counter clicker for tally.

My brothers tally was one hundred and seventy so three twenty shot for the morning

TO BE CONTINUED. . .

Saturday 19th September 2020, Yes off again!

The weather was good, there were plenty of rabbits around until after lunch when the rain set in. My brother and I both went different ways, I followed the bush line where rabbits were coming out of the bush on to the new grass, mostly big ones with some small ones.

Not yet at my destination, however it didn’t take me long to shoot off one hundred rounds.

I stopped for cup of tea and a sandwich, sitting by a cut down tree which gave me a bit of cover. By the time I had drunk the tea and finished the sandwich I had shot sixty rabbits as they popped out on the grass. Down the rabbits went, some good long shots too!

My mate Steve gave me a primo shooting stick, which works very well. Walking up and down hills you get to be a bit out of puff with old age!

Heard my brother shooting so he was in to them.

Time for lunch, yes, I do stop for lunch I got into a good spot again shooting and loading up the ten shot mags as fast as I could go. The spot was on top of a ridge looking down on rabbit burrows as they came out, down went the rabbits.

The rain started to set in so I made my way back to the truck, shooting as I went. By the time I got to the truck it wasn’t long before my brother was back. The tally for the day was five hundred and fifty-six, good part day

TILL NEXT TIME . . .

Tick Survey

Chris Dalton

One of things I have been involved in for the last 18 months is working with Public Health England on a deer serosurveillance study for tick-borne viruses. Essentially I collect deer serum and tick samples from each deer shot and then send those off along with some general information about deer species, general condition / location etc to the team at Porton Down. Whilst the study has thrown up some interesting results the tested deer serum samples that I have submitted, all have tested negative on the tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) and louping ill virus (LIV) antibody test (ELISA); detecting no presence of antibodies against TBEV or LIV, this indicates no evidence of infection of either of these viruses

Again my Apex predator roe sack has been invaluable in carrying amongst all of my normal stalking gear the test kits and associated tubes and paperwork. This roe was actually shot on a hill estate in Perthshire that I manage and had somehow managed to get the wrong side of a 300 hectare fenced and planted woodland creation scheme and so had to be removed.

Chris Dalton

Field master

UK pro stalker of the year 2019& 2020 

Goat Fail…

Napier

Well strange times indeed for everyone in the world including our staff and Fieldmasters contributors.

Napier MD Steve Rowe was supposed to be visiting Napier’s offices in  NZ and working there for a few weeks back in March then just a few hours before departure the world and the rules changed, no one is going anywhere. Usually Steve manages to catch up with Jim Jackson and Bob Spain on these trips and was due to meet Gibbo in Australia on the way home too. But as we all know lockdown everywhere has prevented that, it was planned that we would record the outings planned in NZ and Australia for this Fieldmasters post.  But to the rescue Jim has kindly recounted the last visit and although there is no photograph to attach, ( for reasons you will read) he has recalled that moment from his vivid and somewhat strange memory, by pen and paper, I hope you enjoy this read, we are all living off memories of past hunts for the moment.

Steve

So , having St Eve Rowe back over from the UK for another visit , a day goat culling was called for . Being super hot and dry most forestry blocks were out of bounds due to fire risk . After much wheedling , pleading and outright grovelling to the then forestry manager of the pulp mill a permit was gained for the goat infested Waipatiki block on the way to the popular surfing beach . Great ! Guaranteed goats , can’t miss. What could go wrong?

Having followed the sound of bleating through dense pine on steep terrain for quite a while and no clear shot we decided to head for “goat gully”, this is a very deep ravine too steep to plant pine and so full of dense grass and weeds and a favourite grazing spot for the smelly target critters. Getting there means driving the trusty HiLux to the start of about a kilometre of forestry access road and walking quietly to the end before descending through pine forest to the edge of the gully itself with a panoramic view of any goats unfortunate enough to be munching on all the nice green stuff. Halfway down we could hear much bleating coming up from below .Great , can’t miss much slaughter will be done. Steve has the trusty old sport converted Lee Enfield so lines up on a very large nanny and starts shooting .Down goes the nanny, the biggest Billy we’ve seen in years gets two of the last three rounds as we only have the five shot mag, my first oversight -meant to bring the ten . Never mind , still plenty of targets whizzing about all over the place so Steve sticks his hand out for five more. He then sees me standing there wearing a sick grin and patting all my pockets in the manner of the smoker who is about to ask for a match. Second and biggest oversight – ammo box still in HiLux over a kilometre away!

Sent back in disgrace amid much mumbling about useless bloody amateurs etc , etc I trudge all the way back and stuff my pockets full of rounds . Getting to the end of the access road and starting down through the trees , I smell goats .I hear goats ! As I get near the edge of the trees I am treated to the sight of Steve parked on his bum next to a stump right on the lip of the ravine peering through his binoculars trying to spot more goats . He is completely unaware that he is totally surrounded by a herd of about two dozen  curious goats all staring at him with the lead billy looking at him round a stump not more than fifteen feet away. He has the rifle , I have the ammo and all the goats are between the two of us.  I went “Er….Steve” illogically trying to ‘shout quietly’ and got the expected reaction of panic from the goats and frustration from Steve who could only point the gun at point blank range and shout “bang” at them . Despite a frantic reload , no more goats were shot in the gully that day and I had to buy the beer!

One day , possibly, I will hear the end of this .Only wish I’d had the camera with me . It was (ahem) still in the HiLux.

Jum J

Kangaroo Culling

Greg Gibson

I haven’t got the most glamorous job to do though it is essential.

I would love to be one of those hunters you see pictures of with a big stag with huge sets of antlers. But no, my job in the community is much less exciting and somewhat mundane. I am a Profession Roo Shooter.

Roos on a Golf course

Kangaroo (Roo) numbers in my part of Western Australia have boomed since European settlement. This is because we clear the bush, improved the pasture and put in watering points for our stock. The roos loved these improvement to a point where they become so numerous that they eat all the feed for the stock and become inbred. Don’t believe what you read about roos becoming endangered, this is far from the truth.

Generally my culling is done at night under spotlight as roos become more nocturnal with culling pressure. An evening out culling starts at night fall, then we spend a few hours culling an area. Taking anywhere from a dozen to 35 in an evening. They are all tidied up for presentation to a chiller. They are processed for either human consumption, pet food or canine baits. None are wasted.

An accurate rifle is essential as under the national code of Humane Shooting of Kangaroos all animals must be head shot. As you can see by the numbers of animals taken in an evening, barrels require cleaning regularly. Steve from Napier’s of London put me on the right track in this regard when he visited once and he has a great video on his web page. I use Ultra Clean for patches, these have a rough side and a fluffy side. They are great. Generally I just use Napier Gun Cleaner down the bore but every now and again when giving a good doing over use bore solvent. Just follow Steve’s video and you can’t go wrong. Napier products are top quality. That VP90 stuff is excellent.

Kangaroos are culled under strict Government controlled guide lines and permits. All animals taken are recorded for weight, sex and location. These figures are used to monitor numbers taken and allocate future cull numbers as required.

As I started, not glamorous but essential to keep numbers under control for the benefit of the community and the agricultural sector. One day I might get to hunt a big stag.

Pro Stalker 2019-2020

Napier

Napier are delighted that one of our Field Masters has been awarded UK Pro Stalker of the year for the second year running . UK Pro Stalker of the year is selected from Public nominations and votes with the winner revealed at an awards ceremony at the NEC – the announcements were made on the Saturday night of The British Shooting Show in Birmingham. Chris has worked with Napier for a number of years on Product testing and we are delighted to have him at the ‘ Sharp ‘ end of testing our innovative products in the field.

Rock Lobster

Greg Gibson

The Western Rock Lobster off our Western Australian coast can grow up to 5 kilograms though most harvested would usually only average 750 grams. They are a member of the spiny lobster family and taste fantastic. Though the large portion of the available catch is taken commercially, us amateur fishers have ample opportunity to catch our own. For $50 you can add the rock lobster catch permit to your annual fishing license. Amateurs catch them by either using lobster pots or diving. Divers can only use a snare or catch by hand.

As a young fella I chased these on a regular basis. We would go down the beach and swim out to the inshore reefs only few hundred meters from the shore and free dive to catch our quarry. Using, in them day a simple gidgee to prise the young lobsters from under the reefy ledges. During late spring and again later summer the younger lobster come into these onshore reefs to moult their shells and we would take great advantage of this. This was the christening for me on an annual pursuit of these much sort after delicacies. In these early days my mother, though cautious of me diving, loved me even more with every mouthful.

Western Rock Lobsters are a real delicacy. They are exported worldwide to supply the restaurants from China, USA and Europe. It is Western Australia’s biggest export fishery. Western Australia’s Western Rock Lobster Fishery has received international acknowledgement as one of the best managed and most sustainable in the world.

As time has gone by we have improved our method of catching and invested in diving gear. This has increased our chances of catching our share. On a couple of occasions this year, when the weather gods shine we have had the opportunity to chase a few. These day a lot of our diving is done in the 20 to 35 meters range to increase our chances and sizes of our target. 

I hope you enjoyed this article as much as we enjoyed our feeds.

Christmas Stalking

Chris Dalton

As we are thinking about a few days off in front of the log burner and eating too many mince pies, I find myself working up an appetite on the hills above Aberfeldy in the second week of December chasing hinds about as we work on the cull and at the same time filming for The Shooting Show.  One of my most valued bits of kit here is the Napier Apex predator. Now I accept that its quite tricky fitting a Hind with larder weight of around 65 kilo  into the opened out predator ! However,  neatly  contained inside is  all the kit  that I need – conveniently wrapped around my waist . I do not have to think, have I got this or the other, it’s just there . In and amongst the drag rope, bone saw, tracking harness disposal gloves etc is another essential item in the hill, the apex air glow wind checker. With a red hind able to  smell me at around  2 miles in certain conditions, even more with the old spice or brut ! ( I will likely be getting re supplied on the 25 th)  and now I am really showing my age;  it’s fairly important I know which way I am blowing or else I am wasting my time up here. Zosia is clearly not impressed either with my chosen perfume !

Have a good one !

Chris Dalton

Napier Field Master

Rags, Stags & Bog Tales..

Niall Rowantree

The art and charm of deerstalking has frequently been describe by more able pens than mine and at this time of year as highland glens echo to the call of our largest wild mammals, I thought it may be a worth moment to look at the reasoning behind which stag to take and what drives the selection process.

The deer world has always fallen into two camps with very distinct differences of opinion as to what is required. For one, the whole essence of deer control/stalking pivots around the protection of crops or habitats or they are in pursuit of a vision of a changed Scotland in which the Red stags has a greatly diminished role.

Alternatively, the second camp see them as an iconic resources that can be harvested on an annual basis to secure employment and bring much needed revenue to often remote and rural parts of the country.

When looking at the two selection ideologies it’s important to know which angle you’re coming from and who is influencing the population.

Undoubtedly, the land is the finite resource and getting all pernickety about what deer to take or leave is pointless if the land and animals aren’t in good heart.

No matter what impact protection methods are used or planned for the future, they will fail if the number of deer are not controlled and maintained at a density level which the ground can carry.  This density level depends on the feeding potential of the locality not in absolute terms but related to the acceptable levels of impact which can be economically or in some cases emotionally sustained.

However, deer densities not only influence the level of impact, numbers also influence the condition of the deer themselves.  In areas where habitats are poor, the damage potential is high and numbers need to be lower whereas when habitats are rich, they can sustain significantly higher densities and this can vary across individual land or estates.

The dangers of overpopulation are manifold from the loss of habitat and high mortality to poor performance, loss of mature males to marauding. However, a well-managed population is an asset and a significant income generator to rural communities which can be credibly demonstrated.

We frequently hear arguments and discussions about how to age deer.  At the same time, it is rare that you hear questions such as ‘why?’ and ‘when?’ An accurate estimation of age is important.  I feel that it is necessary to put age estimation into it proper perspective particularly in relation to wild deer and their stalking.  Undoubtedly, for scientific reasons, be it the investigation of sexual maturity and other characteristics and for those farming deer, this is easily overcome by applying deer tags.  However, when talking about wild deer, the consideration is usually which deer to take and which to leave.  To achieve this, the stalker needs to be able to determine a shootable beast from a non-shootable beast.  They need to be able to age the animal on the hoof at distance using its body and antler recognition for guidance.  It is after the stag has been taken that there is a need to confirm the visual estimate of age and whether the decision to cull was correct or not.  In this practice, absolute accuracy is not essential.  To arrive at a decision the stalker simply needs to establish the age group of the animal whether it is young, mature or old and the quality of the animal whether it is shootable or non-shootable.  In essence, it is not unlike activities such as farming cattle or other livestock that land has a carrying capacity and it is essential to remove surplus stock. 

The rules of a traditional highland deer forests, stags are seldom taken below 3 years of age unless there are immediate welfare issues.  Stags can be considered moving into the mature class from age 4 and onward.  Eight points or better with a fair length of antler are spared and watched for signs of better development.  Shootable stags from this age group are stags with bare tops, stags with fewer than 8 points and heads that fit comfortable into a triangular profile side on.  However, it should be balanced with what is considered the norm for the area for example on Ardnamurchan, 10 pointers is fairly common place but in some parts of the Highlands, 8 pointers are more common.  Once stags have passed through this filtering, they make the core group of mature stags and the population moving back into the category of shootable once beyond 8 years of age.  At which point, poor development, antler irregularity and loss of condition become a consideration as are good quality heads showing signs of ‘going back’ for at least 2 consecutive years.  All stags once they have reached a critical point in their age are better removed than left to die. 

A good deer manager will have a detailed knowledge of the deer in his area, he may not have access to the records like his farming colleagues have and to each individual animal’s parentage but he should be able to collect data regarding calving percentages and physical condition scoring.  He has to rely on his experience and decide on the quality and value of each animal by the ability to evaluate the animal on the hoof.  The more information you gather from observing each beast and herd, the better you will become on making decisions regarding what you cull and what you leave.  In essence, even the best animals will reach a point when they will become ‘shootable’ and animals of poor quality are shootable as soon as their inadequacies are spotted. 

Classically, the old hands at this game would refer to poor stags with bare tops in the younger age groups as being ‘just a rag’ although anything with tops was seen to be a stags and allowed to go forward.  Many highland estates had the tradition that at the end of the season, heads were displayed and neighbouring estates were invited to observed heads taken from the season past which lead to healthy discussion and steadied many a hand when lying in a peat bog from acting in haste and squeezing the trigger on something better left.