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Deer Stalking

Deer Stalking

Deer stalking

This Code of Practice has been produced to provide an introductory guide to deer stalking. Although much of the code is applicable to stalking in the Highlands it has been written primarily with the lowland, woodland shooter in mind. This is because the Highland rifle generally has the benefit of a professional stalker, while the woodland stalker is more often operating alone.

The need for deer culling

For many people deer stalking is a recreational activity, but it is also necessary to protect agricultural crops and forestry and indeed, deer, since they are prolific breeders and, if numbers are allowed to increase unchecked, may become prey to starvation and disease. The culling of deer should always take place as part of a deer management plan which considers both the welfare of the animals and the damage they may cause. Wherever appropriate, the management plan should involve close liaison and co-operation between neighbouring landowners and stalkers.

The deer stalker's obligations

Always remember that your quarry has a strong emotive appeal to many people who have little knowledge of deer management. They will judge deer control by your behaviour.

The rifle you are using is capable of killing over great distances and every shot taken must be totally safe. A responsible stalker will have third party liability insurance, but the best insurance is responsible firearms handling.

It is the stalker’s responsibility to know, and understand, the laws relating to the sport and, in particular, to be able to identify deer and to know when and where to shoot. The responsible stalker will, in addition, observe the Countryside Code at all times.

Knowledge and experience

All stalkers should aim to gain knowledge and experience both in the practice of stalking, and in the ecology of the deer. This can be gained either through recognised training courses, the expert guidance of an experienced stalker or a combination of both. Stalkers can demonstrate a level of competence through attainment of the Deer Stalking Certificate.

In Scotland a review of deer stalker competence will be carried out by SNH before April 2014.

Consideration for the deer

Although deer are comparatively large animals, the vital areas for clean kills are small. No one should consider stalking unless they can consistently shoot a group of three shots within a 10cm target at 100m.

A shot should be taken at a range that will ensure a humane kill. Shots should never be taken at a moving or badly positioned deer, in poor visibility, through cover, or at any time when your aim is not steady. After taking a shot, always assume that you have hit the deer until you have proved otherwise by thorough searching. Always follow up and humanely despatch a wounded deer, regardless of the time and effort involved.

Deer and the law

The law regarding the killing and taking of deer is not consistent throughout the UK. In both Scotland and Northern Ireland the legislation is different from that governing England and Wales.

In summary, the following are some of the more important provisions, but this is NOT to be taken as a complete or authoritative statement of the law.

Although the Deer Acts and Orders contain exceptions, particularly to allow occupiers to protect their crops (certain conditions apply) from excessive damage, and to permit mercy killing of an animal to prevent suffering, the stalker must NOT…
  • use anything except legal firearms to kill deer
  • shoot out of season unless authorised to do so
  • shoot at night (one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise) except under licence
  • shoot from a moving vehicle, or use a vehicle to drive deer (vehicle includes aircraft)
  • sell venison in Scotland, except to a licensed venison dealer.
A Game Licence is no longer needed to kill or take deer, anywhere in the UK.

Firearms and ammunition
The stalker must only use a rifle and ammunition which are legal for the species of deer being shot. In addition to compliance with the law the stalker should be guided by knowledge, experience and personal preference in their choice of a rifle and ammunition. The legal requirements are laid down in the several Deer Acts and Orders. For example:

England and Wales

For Muntjac and Chinese Water deer only- a rifle with a minimum calibre of not less than .220 inches and muzzle energy of not less than 1000 foot pounds and a bullet weight of not less than 50 grains may be used.

For all deer of any species – a minimum calibre of .240 and minimum muzzle energy of 1,700 foot pounds is the legal requirement.

Northern Ireland

For Muntjac and Chinese Water deer only- a rifle with a minimum calibre of not less than .220 inches and muzzle energy of not less than 1000 foot pounds and a bullet weight of not less than 50 grains may be used.

For all deer of any species – a minimum calibre of .236 inches, a minimum bullet weight of 100 grains and minimum muzzle energy of 1,700 foot pounds is the legal requirement.


For roe deer, where the bullet must weigh at least 50 grains AND have a minimum muzzle velocity of 2,450 feet per second AND a minimum muzzle energy of 1,000 foot pounds may be used.

For all deer of any species – the bullet must weigh at least 100 grains AND have a minimum muzzle velocity of 2,450 feet per second AND a minimum muzzle energy of 1,750 foot pounds.

It must be stressed that all these figures are the minimum legal requirement.

For all deer stalking the bullet must be of a type designed to expand/deform on impact.

To ensure safe and humane shooting, stalkers must practise and maintain their skill with the rifle and must check at regular intervals that their rifle is still zeroed correctly – i.e. that the bullet is striking a selected point of aim at a chosen range.

The rifle must ALWAYS be test-fired, and the zero verified or corrected, after a knock or other impact, or after any unaccountably wild shot. No one should continue stalking in such a case, until this zeroing (or sighting-in) has been done.

Other equipment and aids

A responsible stalker will always carry:
  • a telescope or binoculars for the correct identification of quarry. They will NOT use the rifle scope for this purpose.
  • a serviceable knife of appropriate design.
  • a torch, if stalking in the evening, to look for hair or blood signs
  • a bipod or stick, about the same height as the stalker, to steady the forward hand.
All deer stalkers would be well advised to have access to a dog trained to locate dead or wounded deer, but steady to other wildlife.

Statutory OPEN Seasons for Deer (all dates inclusive)



Always ensure that there is a solid backstop behind the deer before taking the shot and that you have an uninterrupted view of the foreground.

Never assume that thicket woodland will stop a bullet, or, that a thicket is unoccupied.

Always check that the line of shot is unobstructed.

Shooting from high seats (in woodland) is generally safer than shooting from ground level but rifles must always be unloaded before climbing in and out of a high seat.

Always check the bore of your rifle before loading, especially if there is the slightest danger of the bore having been fouled with mud or snow.

Always apply the safety catch after loading and do not release it until you are about to take the shot.

Always unload your rifle before entering a house or any other building.

Always unload before crossing an obstacle.

If, for any reason, it is necessary to leave a rifle in a (locked) vehicle, ensure that it is out of sight and remove the bolt and ammunition where practicable and carry them with you together with your firearms certificate.

Taking a shot

Safety is paramount – never take a shot if there is the slightest doubt about safety.

Always identify your deer and ensure that no other deer, or any other animal is behind it and could be wounded by your shot passing through the target.

Never fire at a deer unless you are absolutely sure that it is well within your effective killing range.

Always ensure that your deer is broadside on and a shot through the heart or lungs is strongly recommended. The brain is a very small target and for this reason head shots should be avoided except for humane dispatch as they can result in a shattered jaw or nose bone.

Never take a shot at a running deer – sooner or later this will result in a wounded deer (the exception being a second shot at a wounded deer). If in any doubt over any shot don’t fire.

Before the shot, mark the position of the deer by reference to some adjacent feature – bush, tree or rock, for example, and then, if the deer runs off into cover, always assume that you have hit it.

Immediately load another round, apply the safety catch and then wait. You should learn to recognise the behaviour of deer, shot in different parts of the body, as this will dictate how long you should wait before following up. Whatever the circumstances, wait at least five minutes.

You should then approach the spot where the deer was standing and search for signs such as hair and blood. If you cannot find the carcass, do not give up. Follow the blood trail slowly, if possible with the aid of a trained dog. At all times be prepared to shoot again if necessary, but remember that at a range of a few metres the bullet will strike below the point of aim.

Carcass handling

All stalkers must be capable of gralloching and inspecting a deer carcass. It is advisable to take lessons from a professional, or attend an appropriate training course.

Carcasses should be gralloched immediately after shooting and the pluck cleaned out as soon as possible – within 30 minutes in the summer.

After gralloching, the carcass should be hung up to drain, and as soon as possible, transferred to a cool, dry, fly-proof store. Within a reasonable period of time it should be chilled to 7ºC or below.

If the carcass is to be taken to an approved game handling establishment (AGHE), then the stalker must have trained hunter status and a written declaration will have to be completed for each carcass.

Even in very cold weather, carcasses left to lie overnight may be spoiled, and they may be attacked by predators in any weather.

Produced jointly by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the British Deer Society.

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