Mirror Mirror - Perceptions of Deer Stalking

This month Dr Simon Lee turns his attention away from the knife and rifle and both inward and outward as he looks at personal and public perceptions of the addictive compulsion of deerstalking.

Dr Simon Lee

The night before a stalking outing all my equipment is sat in an unforgettable heap waiting for the off. Upstairs however, in the labyrinth of my mind, one last exercise in focus and planning is going on.

As I struggle to fight the tide of sleep I consider my quarry, couched down in a scrape of leaves, tonight will be its last night, but it doesn't know it yet, ignorance is bliss.

I nod off into a deep sleep but elsewhere the slightest noise or smell will have my quarry reacting instantly in an adrenaline flushed burst of self-preservation while I sleep on, untroubled.

My eyes finally open, there goes the alarm. I pad downstairs silently apart from the ‘forty something’ symphony of joint clicks and squeaks that accompanies me wherever I go.

Into the 'tenue de chasse' next, this varies seasonally but normally errs more towards comfort and warmth than style. Seasons and climate have the loudest say in my selection but a small voice pipes up with 'mirror, mirror on the wall, what the hell do you think you look like?'. If you look outlandish, what will an unschooled member of the public make of you? Many people go in for some form of camouflage gear. I have a set of lovely Realtree APG, but it's only really any good in mid-summer, and by that time it's too hot despite numerous vents and high tech breathable fabric.

Royal AttireWhat will everyone else be wearing? Will there be anyone else there? Is it just you and nature? Does it really matter? Only to a point.

(Left: Royal Attire - If you think public perception is important. It is doubly so for the Royals. here captured by the Daily Mail out deer stalking in October 2007) 

So I opt for warm, dull clothing that doesn't rustle and footwear that doesn't leak, squeak or trip me over. Like as not it'll be a pair of gumboots with liners, cold feet merely annoy and distract me, and wellingtons can also be hosed clean, as required.

What of my tools? At the end of all opinion, they are just tools, I liken them to hammers, but I still wince when I see a stalker taking a rifle with better mahogany than a vintage car dashboard through the gorse and brambles. I've seen a few fortunate stalkers taking their 'grand pianos' up the hill and it's not for me, my basic 'same-as-everyone-else' synthetic Tikka gets a wipe on the plastic if needs must.

So off we go, field glasses, stick and rifle, all topped off with a cap that doesn't get in the way of the eyepieces or obstruct my ears, I need to hear as well as see.

Do I need my facemask? Faces, from an anthropological point of view are vital, we need to see them to confirm humanity, look at the fuss certain religious coverings have attracted. I wear my facemask, as it covers my nose and face, keeping my nose warm and reducing pasty glare against a leafy background, but I am constantly aware that in the event of a human encounter, I will whip it off to reveal a hopefully reassuring grin to the 'witness' of my activities.

My personal technique from here is to watch myself from a distance, how am I moving? Am I skylined or against the wrong background? Do I make sense amongst my surroundings? If not, I try to adjust myself as far as possible. Movement and noise are the greatest giveaways, as is scent, but apart from my normal routine of hygiene, that's the best I can do.

But the game is afoot, a quarry presents, is ranged, and I'm onto my sticks, and like a keen apiarist, it's time for some B's.

‘B’ for bullet - What will it do? Metaphorically, will the peanut hit the grapefruit in the barrel? It will? Good.

‘B’ for backstop - Will the bullet be captured? Ricochet? Slam harmlessly into the earth or connect with some unfortunate clergyman on a bicycle? All good still?

‘B’ for bystanders - At this stage of play I sweep my gaze from side to side, witnesses at 11 o'clock? Wait and observe, safety still on.

‘B’ for breathing - We all get excited, but relax, chances are the quarry is unaware of you, remain calm and oxygenate yourself.

‘B’ for Bang! - There it goes, dropped on the spot, eyes on target, reload, safety on.

Perhaps things haven't gone well? Oh dear, where has our target fled to? Fixing bayonet isn't an option, perhaps another firing position is required. The 'coup de grace' may be required, perhaps at this stage it's more of a mercy killing, so speed is the key, should an unseen observer see you dithering around in front of a squealing, wounded animal it wouldn't look good. Do as you would be done by, and finish matters humanely, or should I better say, ethically.

Anyway, it’s all over and the quarry is no more, a moment's pause in respectful silence, elsewhere they toast the fallen and blow horns, each to their own. In other places, the first deer taken is marked with spilt blood on the initiate facially. Whereas I quite like traditions, I reckon we can happily let that one fade into obscurity. What would it look like to the uninitiated? A grisly ritual? murder? Human sacrifice? The mind boggles . . .

I prefer to do my ‘gralloching’ out of the way and with a bit of privacy, on one occasion on a huge, lonely estate, I was surprised by the arrival of a dog, who, having picked up a detached buck scrotum in its mouth, ran back to its young owner and her mother pushing the pushchair. Explanations followed, but as country folk themselves, I think I got off lightly. . .

So now it's off to the butcher, having left the scene free of traces of gore and viscera and any leftover celebratory fag ends or empty hip flasks.

At the butchers, tagged correctly, the carcass is taken to the chiller, those who prefer to DIY at home might like to close the garage door during the proceedings, and any anonymous black bin liners taken to the bin won't cause curtains to twitch, surely?

I got my neighbours on side with the well-established ruse of a few free steaks, for most sceptic’s any doubt about the propriety of the whole process dissolves in free meat, and further, lengthy explanations of Hoffman pyramids, population control, and lofty discussions of management theory won't be needed.

The final stage is of course, education and awareness, personally I try and get the youth of today on my side with a few bits of jerky and the offer of some air rifle plinking, to sow the seeds and hand it on, otherwise the whole sport will fizzle out and nature will take over and the health of the both populations, deer and man, will suffer.

Simon LeeSo the next time you go out stalking, have a look at yourself from a few new angles, you might be surprised what you see!

Left: Dr Simon Lee. To read more from Simon follow this link: how-to-make-venison-jerky

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