Deer stalking presents new challenges every time you hunt, so even the most experienced stalker is never truly prepared. Nevertheless, there are a few things you can do to speed up your learning and ultimately heighten your chances of bagging a stag. From wearing suitable clothing to learning how to use wind direction to your advantage, here are our 7 deer stalking tips for beginners.
Before we begin
Generally, the Red Deer Stag shooting season is from 1st – 30th August, and Red Deer Hind is from 1st November – 31st March (England and Wales). For a full breakdown of the UK deer stalking seasons by species and sexes of deer, take a look at our shooting seasons calendar.
1. Wear the right attire
Your deer stalking clothes should be loose-fitting to make your outline harder to determine. They should also be of a colour that’ll help you blend into your surroundings.
What’s more, you need to keep an eye on the weather to be prepared for every eventuality. If it’s warm, wear layers so you can easily strip them down. If it’s cold, take a big coat because you’ll be out most of the day.
You should also wear gloves, a neck warmer, hat or face mask to keep yourself warm and help disguise your outline. As you know, it rains frequently in the UK, so it’s a good idea to take waterproofs that fold up into your bag. Check out Ardmoor’s impressive range of deer stalking clothing.
Now onto the most important aspect – footwear. Good quality hunting boots are essential for deer stalking. Hill-walking boots are your best bet – these have a good grip, to ensure you won’t sprain your ankle or stumble on uneven terrain. If the weather’s cold, your boots should have a minimum of 800 grams of Thinsulate material to prevent chilly feet from spoiling your hunt.
2. Bring the essential equipment
A rucksack full of equipment should accompany you on every hunt. We recommend you take the following:
- Binoculars: Go for binoculars with good light-gathering capacity and 8x or 10x magnification. Check out the top 10 hunting binoculars for 2020 by clicking the link above.
- Shooting stick: This is crucial for providing balance on steep terrain. It’ll essentially act like another leg.
- Rope: Novice deer stalkers often don’t consider how they’re going to get the deer off the hill once they’ve made a kill. This is where a good rope comes in. It’s also possible to hang the deer in a tree somewhere whilst you continue shooting.
- Tree stand and safety harness: If you’re hunting from a tree, a tree stand and safety harness are essential for avoiding serious injury.
- Knife – This is required if you need to gralloch a deer. You also want it to be easy to clean and carry. Check out Bushwear’s extensive range of knives for different tasks and budgets by clicking the link above.
- Extra ammunition: Don’t make the mistake of not packing enough ammunition. Extra ammo doesn’t take up much space and you’ll kick yourself if you run out.
- Water: Stalking all day is tiring. Keep hydrated to maintain energy and focus.
- Plenty of food: When you’re doing a lot of walking and carrying a lot of gear, it’s vital to keep your energy levels up.
3. Know your gun
This tip might seem obvious, but as a deer stalking beginner it’s easy to forget to practise before taking to the field. Knowing how your gun handles is essential if you want to shoot accurately. Make the most of the pre-season with some shooting practice – you’ll improve your skills and get to know your gun inside out.
Prepare for the situations you’ll face once the hunting season starts. By practice shooting at short and long distances, you’ll have the confidence and skill to handle any shot required during the hunting season.
Tip: in large, open areas, start shooting at 50 and 100 yards, then increase to 200 yards. If you’re in a dense forest, you might be restricted to a maximum distance of 50 yards.
Finally, make sure you can load your gun efficiently. The last thing you want is to miss a good shot by taking too long to load your gun on the day.
4. Stay hidden
Deer have great eyesight, hearing and sense of smell. That’s why you need to be cunning. There are a few things you can do to conceal your presence as much as possible…
- Stand side on: If you’re side on when in close proximity to the deer, there’s less chance they’ll see you. This increases your chances of success.
- Scent control: This is key to remaining indetectable. Make sure you’ve washed your clothes with a scent-free soap and use scent killer deodorant on the day. This YouTube video emphasises the importance of scent control and shows you how to stay ahead of the game.
- Break up your outline: Distort your outline so you are less obvious to the deer by wearing a ghillie suit, different styles of camouflage or leafy patterned clothing.
- If shooting from a deer stand, select your tree wisely: Make sure the tree stand doesn’t blow your cover. Choose a tree that won’t create a silhouette or shadow if the sun’s behind you. If you’re concealed by surrounding cover, you’re in a prime spot.
5. Work with the wind
Knowing which way the wind blows is critical for a hunter. Your scent will travel a long way and if a deer picks it up, it’s game over. That’s why you need to know how to use the wind to your benefit and position yourself tactically.
To determine which way the wind’s blowing, you could throw a piece of grass into the air and see which way it blows. Alternatively, you could squeeze some powdered chalk into the air to detect the wind direction.
Once you’ve established which way the wind’s blowing, make sure you hunt downwind so the deer don’t pick up your scent. Of course, deer don’t always act the way you predict, but you should still prepare as best you can for your preferred outcome.
6. Tread carefully and at the right time
To stalk deer successfully, you need to be crafty, light on your feet and, above all, quiet. You should move gingerly and only when you’re certain of the direction you’re going in. Aim to make your steps small, falling heel to toe so you make as little noise as possible.
As well as being careful where you tread, you should be aware of what’s around you. Your eyes and senses need to be alert and you should keep your head up to look around for any graze signs or antlers.
You should only move when the deer are blissfully unaware of you. Signs of this are when they’re grazing or preoccupied with the herd. If a deer looks up, stay perfectly still.
7. Stalk ethically
As a deer stalker, you have a responsibility to shoot mindfully and ethically. You should be aware of where you hunt, the wildlife that inhabits the area and your behaviour when stalking. Here are a few principles to follow:
- Shoot young deer first: If you shoot the adult first, you might leave the young deer to try and survive on its own.
- Be selective: Don’t just shoot any deer. If they look unhealthy, take them first.
- Don’t shoot matriarchs unless you have a good reason: Without the matriarch to direct the herd to food and shelter, you put the herd’s longevity at risk. Only take the matriarch if they look unhealthy or very old.
- Make the cleanest and quickest kill possible: If a shot’s not perfect and you’re not confident it can be done ethically, don’t take it.
For more information and tips on ethical hunting, have a read of this ethical hunting page by Game Management Authority.
Even after taking these tips onboard, as a deer stalking beginner, accidents can happen. Make sure you have the right insurance to protect yourself if you injure someone, yourself or damage your new equipment.
Gunplan provide specialist shooting insurance which can include up to £10 million of Personal Liability cover and up to £50,000 Equipment cover. Get an instant online quote with Gunplan and make sure you’re protected, so you can focus on your new favourite hobby.