At the end of the main culling season I posted a question on my facebook page asking for subjects for an article, a number of people have asked me to write something about the Deer Stalking Certificate Level 1, but where would I start and what would I say?
As a provider of the course I have a vested interest in saying how good it is and how it will enhance your knowledge of deer stalking, but is this all true or is it just another excuse to relieve people of their hard earned? We as a country are one of only two in the EU with no formal firearms training, the other is Greece! Police forces around the country would love to implement some form of mandatory training – many already try to insist on the Level 1 qualification before lifting restrictions on firearms certificates and whilst this isn’t a legal requirement what is wrong with it? In my opinion, nothing, if you deem yourself responsible enough to go out and take the life of the largest land mammal in the country then it is your responsibility to know as much about it as possible, what has become apparent is that many people don’t like the idea of being made to do something and see firearms ownership as more of a right than a privilege or know everything to know there is about deer and stalking – now some people reading this won’t like hearing that at all but do you know what ? Tough! We are a minority, most recreational stalkers shoot deer for enjoyment not for management purposes and whilst most then try to justify that by saying they eat what they shoot (which I applaud), most wouldn’t starve to death if they never shot another deer, and can “good reason” to own a firearm really be given by shooting half a dozen deer a year when most stalkers don’t have access to their own ground and could use the rifle of the professional who takes them out? Now, before anyone starts jumping up and down accusing me of being anti-gun, I do make my living out of shooting so its fairly important that shooting stays, but if we are prepared to stand up and be counted and justify what we do surely there are worse ways of doing it than having an industry recognised qualification behind us. We all saw the ridiculous press articles claiming that 750.000 deer nationwide need culling, probably something to do with taking heat away from the horsemeat scandal, well thats great but if you think that will lead to an increase in firearms ownership, think again – what it will do is put an emphasis on qualified stalkers and that means getting a piece of paper!
Three years ago when I built the range I had a plan which was to provide a facility for rifle shooters to come and zero their rifles properly as well as providing a safe environment for practice, load development etc. It was also part of the plan to provide training courses. Initial interest in the range was encouraging but after six months it became apparent that rifle shooters by and large love to moan about the lack of facilities but when faced with having to pay to use them are less forthcoming!
At the time I built the range, Deer stalking was undergoing a boom period with seemingly every man and his dog wanting to stalk deer, it seemed my timing was perfect so I approached one of the major providers of the Level 1 and asked if they would like to use the range for the shooting and safety test as it was only four miles from where the rest of the course was run. The answer was a resounding “No!” This organisation still uses a range over an hour away from where the course is held on a windswept estuary with no cover whatsoever! I had never actually considered running the course myself, more getting involved with an established one but the time seemed right to offer an alternative, so I approached the BASC who welcomed the opportunity – the rest is history.
The most interesting fact that has arisen from providing the course over the last two years is that no matter what stalking experience you may have and no matter how much you think you may know, there is always something new to learn – and that goes for me as well! But, there still seems to be a reluctance to take a course which provides a recognised qualification at the end of it. In the UK only around 20,000 stalkers have completed the Level 1 with another 4,000 going on to complete their Level 2 – compare this to Germany where over 900,000 hunters have completed the Jagdschein, a far more thorough and detailed course and qualification not to mention expensive – you’ll have little change from €4000! Personally I think it is a poor reflection that so few stalkers in this country have the desire to go out and shoot deer without wanting to learn more about their quarry and the subject in general – so what does the course entail?
Without boring people about the really detailed content of the course I will try to break down some of the content into specific areas:
1) Safety – We all like to consider ourselves safe and proficient with a firearm, but its not just rifle safety we cover, think about safe practice for carcass extraction, knife skills etc. Probably one of the most difficult parts of the test is the safety test where knowledge has to be demonstrated both in terms of rifle handling, shot selection and safe practice – a number of experienced stalkers have been very close to failing this!
2) Equipment – Again, we all have our personal favourite bits and pieces but it never ceases to amaze me at the stuff people do or more often don’t carry.
3) Deer ecology – The real nitty gritty, this encompasses detailed information about the six species of deer present in the UK, their seasons, cycles and behaviour as well as their identification.
4) Law – This is a big one and covers not only firearms law but deer law both in England and Wales as well as Scotland (Ireland is not included) – it never ceases to surprise me how many people are unaware of some of the most basic law ranging from firearms law to the end use of a carcass.
5) Disease – Again, one of the big ones and one of the most relevant. The more people who take up stalking, the more we are likely to come across abnormalities and potential signs of disease – but can you identify the symptoms, causes and most importantly do you know what to do?
6) Game meat Hygiene – To me this is probably the most significant of all. This is the part, along with diseases that really gives weight to the qualification and certifies you a Trained Hunter, qualified to certify a carcass fit to enter the food chain, free of diseases and potential risks to the consumer.
These are really the six key areas that are of real significance to the UK stalker and cover far more than outlined above, obviously we cover other areas such as ballistics, shot placement, reactions to shot, following up wounded animals, carcass handling etc. The tests themselves are broken down into five areas, the general paper covering law, diseases, ecology etc, this comprises of 50 multiple choice questions with a pass mark of 40/50. The Game meat Hygiene paper covering carcass handling, inspection and hygiene, 40 multiple choice questions with a pass mark of 32/40. The final theory test is the identification test, a series of 20 slides with a pass mark of 16/20. Finally, a trip to the range to complete the shooting and safety tests – the shooting test comprises a 3 shot group in a 4″ target at 100m followed by 2 shots into a specific area on a deer silhouette target from 100m prone, 2 shots at 70m sitting/kneeling and 2 shots at 40m from a standing position – stalking aids such as sticks may be employed for the 70 and 40m disciplines. The safety test involves a walk around the site identifying safe/unsafe targets and answering 10 questions on rifle handling, safe approach, crossing obstacles etc.
So, there you have it, a brief breakdown of the Level 1 course. Many people liken it to a driving test and in some ways I would agree but in others I would strongly disagree – meeting so many stalkers as I do in my line of work it is clear that their is a lot of knowledge missing in the average stalkers database from simple things such as identification and seasons to law and disease – you only have to look at the various internet forums to clarify this! As I mentioned earlier I do have a vested interest in providing the course but realistically by the time I’ve paid all the fees and costs and spent three days lecturing there isn’t much left but it does give me an enormous sense of satisfaction when people with all levels of ability from novices to deer managers with over 30 years experience tell me they have learnt something from the course. We tend to keep our courses to a maximum of twelve candidates purely to encourage interaction and usually have a wide cross section of experience which is always interesting and informative. Obviously for anyone wanting to go onto their level 2 afterwards, this is no problem, as an approved witness I can take what you have learned in level 1 and help you build on that to eventually complete and submit your portfolio for level 2.
As I alluded to earlier, if we really want to do the best for our quarry as well as try to safeguard our future in terms of deer management and firearms ownership then a formal qualification is surely the best place to start and whilst currently it is voluntary don’t for one minute think that behind the scenes it’s mandatory requirement isn’t being discussed – Complacency breeds contempt.
For any further information on the course content or course dates, please do not hesitate to contact us. The next course is on the 15th -17th June 2003 with an October course also scheduled.