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.  

DSC Level 2

Chris Dalton

Most of late July and early August will see me stalking around home in the SW of Scotland however, on this occasion I had Mark booked in who was nearing the end of a naval career in the marines, and for travelling purposes stalking up in Angus suited as he could easily then travel from his base up around Aberdeen. Mark wanted to gain his DSC level 2 and intended to pursue a career in the stalking sector.

That evening saw us moving quietly up the side of a broadleaf strip sandwiched between 2 grass fields . I told Mark to set up on the rifle and watch for movement in the field in front of us, we did not have a fantastic view but could see enough through the gaps in the trees. I always wait a little while for things to settle before starting to call and while we were doing this movement got both of our attention; the fox red hint of a roe in summer cost could clearly be seen moving slowly though the undergrowth. We got glimpses as he made progress across in front of us – I double checked in whispered voice that Mark was ready; and started to give very quiet and gentle ‘ contact ‘ peeps on the Butilo.  Initially, the buck stopped and I thought he was going to respond but then totally ignored the call and continued to work across us and away into the undergrowth. Again I waited a few moments, Mark shrugged and made to move but I told him to wait and stay on the sticks. I gave a few calls on the Nordic roe, mimicking the agitation  call of a doe that is being pressed –and  boy did that do it. Crashing and cracking twigs had the yearling bouncing back towards us to suddenly appearing in front of us about 30 yards away. But not in a position for Mark to shoot, as he was partially obscured by a willow tree with a branch smack over the vitals; another call and he was out again this time 10 yards away staring intently at us. What followed was a stand-off for about 5 minutes with no body daring to move, and then he bobbed quick as flash back into the trees, another call had him back again but this time he came in slightly to our right and made the mistake of offering a very nice broadside shot in a little clearing again only about 20 yards away. He dropped immediately on the spot to the shot, I do hope though he managed to experience the delights of a young lady before he met his end. He had certainly felt the wrath of a bigger buck as we noted the jab marks on his back end when we gathered him up for the gralloch.

 Mark went on to complete his DSC 2 as we did witnessed outings for the next 3 days and he shot 4 cull roe so everyone was happy. No matter how many times I call roe, it is still one of them most magical experiences in stalking, not to be overdone but used sparingly and with some though to what you are doing it is an effective tool in the stalking box of tricks. It is particularly rewarding as well if you can achieve this for someone to experience for the first time. Mark went on to stalk and shoot 4 further roe on the trip, this time him leading the stalks and making all the decisions.

This is however where the Napier finders keepers came into play – I had lent Mark my bone saw to open the chest cavity, and after completing the gralloch  he had put down in the long grass and we only managed to locate it because of the dayglow pink band on the handle. As I have said before sometimes the simplest things are so very useful – that would have been best part of £50 gone.

Apex Finders Keepers

Ayrstalk – Airglo

Chris Dalton

Often the best ideas are the simple ones – but having said that they need to be refined and tested in the field. The Apex airglow is one such product – simple but it has been thought through. The powder comes in a small, convenient sized tube, carried in a pouch which can be worn around the neck and inside the coat jacket. With older systems I would have carried this in a pocket or pouch, requiring much fumbling and searching by which time the buck I have just seen, and wanted to check the wind for has had a good whiff of me and is off .

But now I know exactly where the powder is and hands on is quick. Not rocket science; simple, cleverly though out and it works .                               

Chris Dalton, South Ayrshire Stalking

Ayrstalk – Apex Predator

Chris Dalton

As an outfitter , I am stalking or managing deer in one form or another most days, for me kit is not a gimmick, it is an essential tool and has to be good and functional . If it is not I don’t use it or endorse it, simple as that. For many years I used a leather strap for carrying my Roe off the hill, I cannot get on with roe sacks – I find them cumbersome and they interfere with carrying and deploying the rifle. Then the clever folk from Napier came up with the Apex predator – perfect! now we have something that wraps around my waist, has pockets for all my stalking essentials that I take out to the hill and cleverly deploys to a full size roe sack when needed to carry my deer of the hill.

I could go on but suffice to say I have been using an Apex predator now for over 5 years, it is out with me whenever I stalk and is I feel one of the best products on the market for recovering the smaller deer species. I have had 2 roe in it which was admittedly a squeeze, they were yearlings but it easily copes with the largest roe buck. The detachable, inner liner is simple to remove and clean – it comes with two so one can be washed and drying while you fit the spare. The many pockets are well thought out and functional – all of my gralloching kit is in there so I simply leave it in the car, grab it as I head off for my  stalk knowing that I have everything with me I need .

Roe Bucks Hunting Story

Rod Greenwood

Its always great to do a cashless deal, and having only recently started fly fishing in earnest, deals can be made with lifelong fishermen who are wishing to take up deer management. The other evening such a pal and I met up after work, we chatted through the trials and tribulations of each of our days and pinched ourselves that we were lucky enough to be off out into the local countryside to look for a Roe buck or Muntjac. Richard has previously shot forty plus deer, Muntjac, Roe, Fallow and a leucitic (white) Sika pricket, this has generally been done from a highseat with the ready-made backstop of the ground to offer confidence when taking the shot, so my intention this May evening was to set him up for his own foot stalk which would hopefully be a memorable one.

Roe Buck Hunting Story

As ever after we’d crashed around, changing shoes for boots and sorting out sticks, dogs and loading rifles we were to look up and spot a young buck cross the main ride, so we scuttled down the ride quickly to where he had crossed, only to spy him drifting off into the hazel coppice, we had both brought our Pulsar handheld TI spotters and tried to follow him further, but stalking through the wood we lost him. We continued with my intention, which was to get out to the edge of the wood, where we could perhaps intercept deer as they began to feed in the fields. With the Labrador helping by raising his head and scenting we squeezed through the hazel and hawthorn hedge and negotiated a rather dilapidated ‘Tiger trap’ style hunt fence, to enter a youngish plantation with dappled shade.

Sabbath, the Lab, was now very intent and stood peering into the cover, so we squatted with him and scanned the area with our spotters, the scene was illuminating. Four heat sources glowed ahead, along with binoculars, we concurred it was a family group of Muntjac and a Roe buck. Sitting with the dog, Richard was sent off to stalk and cull the Roe. Whilst he was gone, all three of the Muntjac approached us and stood with their noses in the air trying to ascertain what we actually were, dog or man or both? After a short while there was the resounding ‘bang – thwack’ of a well-placed shot, it must have been fairly close as the sounds were almost indistinguishable. We waited until Richard appeared with a broad grin and an accomplished look on his face.

Having just been signed up by Napier to be one of their Field Masters, a group dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in field sports. Now was my opportunity to use some of their Apex Range, and the Apex 46 hunters knife which fresh out of the box and sheath easily gralloched the Roe buck once it was hung from a suitable tree by the ingenious Apex tree hugger with its rubberised webbing and S hooks. With the addition of rubber gloves the animal was quickly dealt with offering a quick and easy suspended gralloch. I rarely cut open the sternum as the carcass loses shape and it offers more opportunity for contamination, as more flesh is open to the environment. The Apex Truck Click with Auto lift has been very useful for gralloching larger deer on the tow hitch, making it much easier to swing them into the back of a pick up when lone working too.

With some light left in the evening we got the carcass back to the track side, and then we pottered off along another ride, only to be confronted by a larger buck browsing on the vegetation under the overhanging hazel coppice. Sliding, my first rifle a .243, off my shoulder and onto the Spartan Sentinel stick system in the quickly decreasing light, approximating the shot to be 120m, the buck turned enough to offer a shot to the front left shoulder. There was the satisfying thwack as the bullet struck, it jumped up and kicked out his back legs, and then ran towards us before crashing into the woodland some metres away, the bullet strike and reaction to shot would have never been visible with an unmoderated rifle, due to the muzzle flip.

We stood and chatted about the shot and the animal for a number of minutes as Sab stared unblinkingly into the wood, waiting for us to move forward and find the buck. Approaching the strike first there was nothing visible on the ground, my heart sank, although I was confident with the shot, there was no blood, tissue or pins (hair). Out came the thermal spotters, still nothing, admittedly the bracken, grasses and brambles had begun to grow up. With confidence I cast Sab back and as Richard and I both stepped forward Sab appeared back through the bracken and we all stumbled across the dead buck, laid on his back in a forestry extraction rut, well below ones line of sight. The bullet had never exited, so with no exit wound there was not going to be any blood at the strike and also no blood for a trail, Sab had air scented the animal in the cover.

It was a successful and satisfying evening, all within half a kilometre, if that. The forester would be happier and Richard’s freezer would be ready for the summer BBQs.