NOTES FROM IRELAND: Deer stalking school
Rupert Butler is a shotgun man through and through, but it hasn’t stopped him taking an opportunity to learn more about deer stalking... he may even venture out for some venison
Ihave just returned from the first of a two-day Hunter Competence Assessment Programme course (HCAP) for stalkers. Before I go any further, I must stress that I am not a stalker and probably never will be. Yes I have, on the odd occasion over the years, bagged a deer or two, some by conventional means, others by rather more dubious ones.
So, why am I doing the above course, you may ask. Quite simply, it became available at half the usual price courtesy of IFA Countryside and was very ably given by Liam Nolan of the Deer Alliance. A barrister of some note, or so I’m told, it became abundantly clear over the course of the day that his daily profession is of great benefit in delivering courses such as this. His easy and relaxed style, coupled with his obvious knowledge of the subject, made the day both informative and enjoyable.
My attention span is not good, never was, and I thought that a full day in a hotel suite listening to somebody pontificate about deer would bore me to ribbons. To tell you that I actually enjoyed it, coupled with the fact that I learned more in those few hours than I probably have during the course of a lifetime of hearing titbits regarding stalking, is entirely down to Liam’s abundant knowledge. I also discovered that stalking is an affliction to Liam, just as game shooting is to me.
To be honest, I never really got to grips with why people would pursue deer in the same way that I would woodcock, but now I know. It is a science of sorts, and if carried out in a professional manner can be of benefit to everyone involved.
Surprisingly for me, my intake of knowledge on all matters regarding our four-legged friends was rather good. I now know what a hummel is, I know where all the marking glands are located, and I even know where to look for disease in a slain animal. For the first time in my life, I’m actually thinking I might enjoy a stalk some day.
This said, I am probably also thinking about the work involved, which is rather tedious once the stalk has been completed. But then again, I’m thinking how lovely venison is, and how much I enjoy it.
In the course of the day’s events I ask a few questions, some of which were reasonably plausible, others not so. I ask if hummel characteristics can be transferred to its progeny, which apparently in some cases it can.
And then I drop a clanger. I ask why red and sika will crossbreed with each other but not with fallow. To be quite honest, I had a fair idea of the answer before I asked, but needed clarification. And that’s exactly what I got. In his unflustered tones, Liam told yours truly that it would be something akin to a giraffe mounting a cow.
‘Stalkers in any given area need to come together to form a management plan so that specific targets are met’
Needless to say, that answer rested that particular case from there.
On my way home that evening, I pondered on the relevance of such a course to the stalking community as a whole. I’m pretty sure most stalkers that I know are consistent with respect to safety, shot selection, carcass dressing, etc. Where I feel the course is of particular interest to the above community is in its attention to the actual management of deer in any given area. I’m sure most stalkers live for that medal head, or indeed, if venison is needed, a pricket for the freezer. But, at several intervals during the course of the day, Liam kept harping back to the fact that more hinds need to be culled. Although this may seem extremely obvious, it may not be practised to the fullest extent.
Also, stalkers in any given area need to come together to form a management plan so that specific targets are met. I was surprised to learn that if one had 20 hinds in an area, and given the usual breeding and mortality rates, that if left to their own devices one would have 161 deer present in five years’ time. This highlights the importance of culling sufficient hinds so numbers don’t swell to unsustainable proportions.
I did say that it was a two-day course, the second in a few weeks being the practical leg, and one, I must admit, that I’m not looking forward to. Firstly, I haven’t discharged a heavy-bore rifle in years, and secondly, all the rest of the shooters are experienced stalkers, and friends of mine. I get the feeling that I could be the butt of a few jokes for some time to come.
Where a shotgun is concerned, I feel I can hold my own in most company, but a rifle is a totally different matter. Yes, I pot around after a few bunnies and the odd fox with a .22 during the summer, but this is not the same.
If I could wipe the eyes of those that think they know more, then it truly would be an eventful day. One can but hope...
Did you know that some of the best red heads in the world are now being shot in the west of Ireland? For a wee country, we really have a lot going on.
While many stalkers love to bag an impressive stag, it is clear that more hinds need to be culled in order to control numbers effectively
Rupert is apprehensive about the practical element of the course – most of these guys are experienced stalkers
Shotgun shooting in the Irish hills with his pack of springers is more like Rupert’s comfort zone