The students tackle the DSS level 1
Rod Greenwood runs through the details of Sparsholt College’s entry-level qualification for the management of deer – and what is expected of students looking to pass their exam
Each year, our first year Level 3 students are offered the opportunity of taking the Deer Management Qualifications Deer Stalking Certificate Level 1. This qualification in the basics of deer management is based on a number of subjects, including the ecology and identification of the six deer species, an understanding of the legislation and firearms safety around managing deer, marksmanship and a comprehension of the laws concerning lardering a carcass.
These different areas are assessed in different ways, allowing one’s practical abilities and information recall to be tested fully.
A good and thorough knowledge of deer behaviour in the UK is a must for their efficient management. It must be remembered that each of the species are different. Their behaviour can vary due to factors such as the habitat they are in, how many there are of them, the stocking density and what impact man has previously had on them.
Deer are normally found in wooded or afforested areas and feed mainly on the edge of cover, but various species do have marked preferences and at different times of year prefer different habitats. Students will learn that some species herd while others remain in small family groups often dependent on their age and sex. This is very noticeable in highland areas where parts of the estates will be preferred by the red hinds in comparison to the stags who are likely to be on the tops of the hills or in the sparse woodland.
To pass the course, a good knowledge of the six species’ general ecology will be required, along with an understanding of their plasticity in response to disturbance.
This is noticeable in regards to their feeding. As they are herbivores, they need time to ruminate and chew their cud after periods of eating. This two to four hourly cycle should be in a quiet undisturbed area. If they are repeatedly disturbed during these times they could well become nocturnal in their habits and become even trickier to control, unless derogations are granted by the authorities, such as Natural England. Deer are generally crepuscular, showing themselves at dawn and dusk. When alarmed and unsure of the threat, deer will give an alarm call – perhaps there should be an audio test on the course, as well as just the visual test.
All species of deer have an annual breeding period, known
as the rut. The herding species will congregate together, following well-trodden paths or tracks to these areas. This is when the males use their antlers to hold harems, impress the females, control territories and, if necessary, fight.
Males will generally ascertain the stronger contender by stature, so their weight and size, which is done by parallel walking – this phenomenon is more easily seen in park deer herds, during the fallow and red rut.
In regards to roe, the younger bucks will keep well away from a mature territory holding buck, as in some circumstances they will actually get killed, by a goring, especially if caught up against a boundary obstacle such as stock fencing.
Muntjac and Chinese water deer use their elongated canines or fangs to settle disputes instead. When culling, you will find animals with slash marks and their ears in tatters due to previous assaults.
Deer management is necessary as they have no real natural predators and our vegetative ecosystems can take a hammering from them. Any leaf, shoot or stem eaten by a deer will have the tell-tale tag left on the plant: the woody stems will be torn away and not cut cleanly. This is due to the fact that deer have no upper incisors – rather, they have a hard dental pad.
With so many deer wandering around the countryside (and some urban areas), it is worth researching and learning the usual signs left by them too. This aspect of the course includes education on couches (where they lie up), the slots left by their hooves, their faeces or dung, how they mark their territories with scrapes and fraying, along with their characteristic browse lines, at different heights, dependent on the species present. Hair that is found on barbed wire or on the ground will be hollow, so will crease rather than bend, if it is from a deer.
To pass the DSC1, this knowledege of natural fieldcraft has to be combined with the science and technical comprehension and understanding of ballistics and the necessity of safe firearms handling.
Students will learn about the suitable bullet constructions and calibres that must be used to ensure a humane and swift kill. This is to ensure that sufficient fatal tissue trauma is caused to the major organs that were chosen as the point of impact (POI).
The accuracy of this shot is a result of the internal and external ballistics of the rifle, and a rifled barrel combined with a suitable optical scope and mounts, offering you a good point of aim (POA).
Some basics of physics is needed, with the realisation that bullet trajectories are affected by gravity and wind, along with the energies and pressures exerted on bullets of different cross sectional areas and weights.
All shots must be safe – stalkers must make sure there are no obstructions between the muzzle and the deer’s chest area. A suitable solid backstop must always be present too.
Common sense will prevail with most of the questions in the written paper – hopefully students will realise that ‘loosening the bedding screws half a turn and squirting oil down the barrel just before you leave to go stalking’ is not advised!
Finally, there is consideration given to the handling of the shot carcass to ensure that it is fit to enter the food chain, and students will take a large game meat hygiene test.
Teaching of this will highlight the risks, the contaminants, notifiable diseases and the root causes of all, plus students will learn procedures to ensure that these areas are all minimalised during the management of your deer.
‘A good and thorough knowledge of deer behaviour in the UK is a must for their efficient management’
The course covers practical marksmenship alongside theory
Ballistics training is included
Consideration is also given to carcass handling and meat hygiene
Students learn which calibres are suitable for shooting deer