Deer stalking is a British term for the stealthy pursuit of deer on foot, for sport, numerical control, or food. Deer are usually shot with a high powered rifle, though woodland stalking with bow or crossbow is also popular where this practice is allowed.
While the expression "deer stalking" is widely used among British and Irish sportsmen to signify almost all forms of sporting deer shooting, the term is replaced in North American sporting usage by "deer hunting", a term that in Britain and Ireland has historically been reserved exclusively for the sporting pursuit of deer with scent hounds, with unarmed followers typically on horseback. The practice of hunting with hounds, other than using two hounds to flush deer to be shot by waiting marksmen, has been banned in the UK since 2005. Prior to that there were three packs of staghounds hunting wild red deer of both sexes on or around Exmoor, and until 1997, when they were disbanded, the New Forest Buckhounds hunting fallow deer bucks in the New Forest.
Earlier than the 20th century there were several packs of staghounds hunting "carted deer" in England and Ireland. Carted deer were red deer kept in captivity for the sole purpose of being hunted and recaptured without harm. Carted deer that escaped recapture sometimes became the source of wild populations, for example the red deer of Thetford Chase originated with deer left out by the Norwich Staghounds.
The way in which the red deer were hunted was for a game keeper called the "harbourer" to follow the intended quarry to the wood where it lay up for the night. In the morning before the meet the harbourer would carefully examine the perimeter of the wood to ensure that the stag had not left. He then reported to the Master and the Huntsman would take about six hounds called the "tufters" into the wood and rouse the intended quarry and start it running, separating it from any other deer that might be in the wood.
This having been achieved the tufters were taken back, their work being done for the day, and the main pack were brought out and laid on the scent of the stag which by now had a good start. After a sometimes very long chase the stag would become exhausted and come to bay to face the hounds, often in water, where it would be shot at close range by one of the hunt servants.
The use of the term "stalking" serves to denote the extreme stealth and wariness which are often necessary when approaching wild deer in their natural habitats. Scottish deer stalking is often done under the guidance of a stalker or a gillie, a resident expert. Deer stalking is virtually the only form of control, or culling, for the six wild or feral species of deer at large in the UK. The six species are Red Deer, Roe Deer, Fallow Deer, Sika Deer, Muntjac and Chinese Water Deer and there have never been more deer at large or more widely distributed in the UK than there are now. The first two species are indigenous although new populations have appeared after deliberate releases and escapes from parks or farms. A result of this is that both Red Deer and Roe Deer are now present in several parts of Wales, a country from which both had been absent as wild animals for several centuries. Fallow Deer have been at large in many parts of the UK for at least 1,000 years, added to by more recent escapes, but the other three species have solely originated from ornamental collections and deer farms, principally from Woburn Abbey, escaping through damaged fences or sometimes by deliberate release. A number of deer and wild boar escaped in southern England following damage to fences by the hurricane of 1987.
Apart from the stalking of Red and Sika Deer on the open hillsides of Scotland and the Lake District which takes place in daylight, most deer stalking takes place in the first and last two hours of daylight and most people never come into contact with it although it occurs almost everywhere. The only English county without any wild deer is Middlesex and in all other English and Scottish counties and most Welsh counties there are deer populations controlled by deer stalking. Antlers are measured by one of several scoring systems used to compare the relative merits of the heads. In Europe including the UK the Conseil International du Chasse (CIC) system is used, in America it is either the Boone & Crockett or Safari Club International (SCI), and in Australasia it is the Douglas system.
Other than man, carnivorous predators of adult deer have long been hunted to extinction in Britain. In most cases the objective is to maintain a stable and healthy population of deer and to achieve this will require a cull of about 30% of the population each year. This is not random, and a population/age census will have been carried out each year to determine the age and sex profile of those to be culled. Injured (often caused by dog attacks, being caught in fences and car collisions) or sick animals are given priority, then barren or very old animals and after that selected animals resulting in a balanced pyramid profile with a few old animals of each sex at the top with increasing numbers of each sex down to the yearlings at the bottom. The males at the top of the pyramid are often trophy animals attracting wealthy sportsmen who pay large sums for shooting them. If population reduction is required, more females will be culled. If a population increase is required, only injured or sick animals will be culled.
A rifle is used that complies with the minimum requirements of the Deer Act in calibre and ballistic performance. There are differences in the law between Scotland and England & Wales and popular calibres are .243, .270, .303, .308, 6.5x55mm, .25-06, and .30-06. In recent times the use of sound moderators ("silencers") has greatly increased as a health and safety measure.
- Victorian era dramatist Grossmith, George in The Daily Telegraph, 7 June 1911W. S. Gilbert remarked, "Deer-stalking would be a very fine sport if only the deer had guns."
|Wikisource has the text of the 1920 Encyclopedia Americana article Deer-stalking.|
- Scrope, William, Charles Landseer, & Edwin Henry Landseer, The Art of Deer-stalking: Illustrated by a Narrative of a Few Days' Sport in the Forest of Atholl, with Some Account of the Nature and Habits of Red Deer, and a Short Description of the Scottish Forests, Legends, Superstitions, Stories of Poachers and Freebooters, &c. &c (1839)
- MacRae, Alexander, A Handbook of Deer-stalking (1880)
- Whitehurst, Frederick Feild, On the Grampian Hills: Grouse and Ptarmigan Shooting, Deer Stalking, Salmon and Trout Fishing (1882)
- Scrope, William, Days of Deer-stalking in the Scottish Highlands (1883)
- Grimble, Augustus, Deer-stalking (1886)
- Brander, M., Deer Stalking in Britain (1986)