The Role of the Deer Stalker
Stalkers, gamekeepers and ghillies (also spelt gillies) are specialist guides who assist clients when stalking.
Stalkers are generally responsible for managing the deer on the estate, which includes selecting the deer which are to be
culled (either by stalking clients or by the estate itself). The origin of the word Ghillie dates from the late 16th century
and comes from the traditional Scottish Gaelic word gille, which translates as "lad, servant".
As the anglicized name suggests, the original aim of a gamekeeper was to provide a landscape which ensures that there were
enough deer to allow some to be shot without destabilising the population. One of the main ways that keepers ensure enough
game is available is by maintaining the appropriate environment. Although this is still true in some respects (the value of
many sporting estates is dependant on how many stags can be found there), the role of the gamekeeper is changing to become
more of a land manager, and deer stalking takes place as part of a deer management plan.
Deer shot for 'trophies' - where the antlers are kept as a souvenir - are carefully selected in accordance with the estate's
deer management plan. They represent a very small percentage of the deer culled each year, but are prized by deer stalkers,
who come to the Highlands of Scotland from all over the world to hunt deer. These deer stalkers provide valuable revenue for
the estate, thereby allowing the estate to maintain the herd as a whole.
A deer stalker plays an important role in any deer stalking trip. A good stalker will know his ground like the back of his
hand and will know the habits of the deer intimately. Of course, the stalker will ensure your safety during the stalk - a
prime consideration is to ensure that there is nothing that will deflect a bullet between the rifle and the target and that
there is a safe backstop to any shot taken.
However, a good stalker is a guide as well as a hunter. They will lead you through the mountains and glens in any weather,
never getting lost, even in misty conditions. They will, of course, find the deer and select the animal to be shot. But they
will also be able to share stories with you, about the estate, about the traditions of stalking and of their life. Sometimes
these will be discussed on the hill, but often its over a dram of whisky back at the lodge!
Deer Stalking Qualifications
The BASC plays a lead role in setting standards and providing training, for professional and recreational
stalkers and this no doubt has contributed to the excellent safety record of deer stalking in Scotland.
There is no mandatory testing for deer stalkers, but given the complexity of the subject it is no easy task to become a deer
stalker. In response to demand, a company called Deer Management Qualifications established the Deer Stalking Certificate
(DSC), which is applicable to both professional and recreational deer stalkers.
Over 10,000 people in the UK have now undertaken the voluntary Deer Stalking Certificate, which has two levels of qualification.
The Level 1 course covers the biology and ecology of the six species of deer found wild in the UK, firearms, ballistics and
legislation, the laws covering deer stalking and health and safety issues and game meat hygiene. There is a practical range-based
shooting test, a multiple choice knowledge test and a deer identification test. The tests conclude with a simulated stalk
where candidates are expected to demonstrate safe rifle handling, deer identification and to be able to judge safety issues
in the field.
Level Two is based on the completion of three successful stalks, under the scrutiny of accredited witnesses who are experienced
stalkers. It includes extraction and preparation of the deer carcass. We would always recommend checking with your preferred
sporting estate that their stalkers hold at least the Level One Deer Stalking Certificate.