As I have eluded to before, the DSC 1 qualification is something that the Firearms Enquiry Officers (the character who will determine whether you can have a license to own a rifle or not) are starting to demand more and more regularly before awarding a certificate for a deer legal calibre.
You only have to do a quick Google search to discover that there are endless discussions surrounding the rights and wrongs of this on the various shooting forums. The usual questions are variants of ‘is it legal for my FEO to demand this’ and ‘is this an appropriate qualification? It teaches you nothing practical.’
Well, my FEO allowed me a deer legal calibre (.243) with a restriction aimed at requiring me to complete DSC1 before I could use it on deer. I had to give course dates that I was booked on as well. In the event I don’t think the restrictions actually perform the function of stopping me shooting deer, however I was booked onto the British Deer Society course in September, and I wanted to complete it anyway. There are numerous other providers, and you should be able to find a suitable course locally.
There is an option to turn up for the tests only, which would have the benefit of not requiring a day off work as well as being a little cheaper. I did consider this, but thought that devoting a weekend for exams anyway, I may as well go the whole hog.
So what to expect?
I spent a lot of time reading various posts on The Stalking Directory about the course, and found those about to take it suffering genuine anxiety. There were a lot of comments referring to quite experienced stalkers failing the test.
When the tome of reading material hit my mat, I realised what was driving the anxiety. It was the size of a yellow pages, and we would be tested on all of it. Not only that, there is an element of practical testing too, directed at ensuring a reasonable level of marksmanship and a safety assessment checking only safe targets are fired at, and the candidate’s muzzle awareness when handling his or her rifle.
We met our tutor bright and breezy on the first day â€“ he was quite a character, and clearly a highly experienced stalker with a unique approach to teaching. If I tell you he is an ex para, you will appreciate what that approach might be. His name is Chris Howard, a big name in the BDS and the deer management world. Without getting too personal about things, I found his teaching style suited me well and I was very happy with it. Chris was backed up by Dave Goffin, each teaching different elements of the curriculum. Learning first hand from experienced stalkers added a lot to the course, and the decision to join the lectures was absolutely right.
The course is set up so that Friday and Saturday morning are teaching days, indoor assessments are run on the Saturday afternoon, and the shooting assessment is on Sunday. As a footnote, the course will provide a rifle for those who do not own one.
Chris made it clear from the start that those who had not done their background reading would struggle. I had found a website that tested me on the question bank, and doing this on the train most mornings helped me prepare. There is so much material to cover in the two days of teaching that this pre work is inevitable. Questions were welcomed throughout the lectures, and both Chris and Dave provided excellent photos to get their information across.
The topics studied are covered by 7 main headings:
- Deer biology and ecology
- Stalking techniques and taking the shot
- Deer identification
- Large game meat hygiene
The time for the tests was soon upon us. It started with a slide show of 20 different deer photos, and we were required to answer which species and which sex the animal was. We had run through hundreds of slides beforehand with Dave, and this helped a lot. Following this was the general paper and the game meat hygiene paper, both of which are multiple choice.
Arriving at the range on Sunday morning, everyone was very keen. First taking the test would be first out, and could be home for a late breakfast. Last out could be any time before dark!
The shooting test is actually straightforward, but the nerves kick in to a greater or lesser extent depending upon the sort of person you are. Add to this the worry of a relatively new rifle (for me and several others) and an extra dimension is added. The first candidate failed as well, which was not reassuring!
The test allows zeroing time for fine tuning, and then 3 shots must hit within a 4 inch target at 100m (or yards, not sure which!) Following this, the target is a profile of a roe doe, with a very feint line around the ‘engine room’ that cannot be seen through a scope. The idea is that the candidate selects a fatal shot according to the deer, rather than just within a target. For the purposes of the test, half way up the body straight above the front leg gives the most leeway. The candidate must get 2 shots within the target at 100m prone, 70m kneeling or sitting and 40m standing. Usual field aids such as bi pod, sticks, roe sack etc may be used, and in fact the course provided tri sticks for candidates.
Two ‘lanes’ were set up in the open air with an appropriate backstop, with one lane for those borrowing a rifle and the other for those with their own. Two candidates would start at the same time and fire on their appropriate target. We had been warned that someone would shoot the wrong target, and to avoid this at all costs.
Whilst I was waiting, I took the safety test. It was a wander out with an assessor, in fact the park manager of Wadhurst Park, which was the beautiful setting for the course. We looked at several deer silhouettes and discussed whether I would or wouldn’t take the shot. We talked as we walked about various different scenarios, and what the safe course of action would be. This was a test in common sense, although there are prescribed methods for elements and these need to be known. All of this is in the written material provided at the start.
My turn came on the range, and at first I couldn’t quite get things right on the zeroing target. Poor grouping and not near enough the bull for my liking. A few minutes relaxing, a turn or two of the scope and I was ready to fire at the siting target. Chris gave the thumbs up, all three in the target with a group of probably 2 inches. This must be complete before progressing to the roe target, and 3 opportunities are allowed.
So on to the roe. Lying down, 2 shots off a bi pod should be easy. I sent them away fairly quickly, and as my fellow candidate finished theirs, on we went.
70 yards sitting off sticks. Never tried it before! Actually with a quick tutorial it was fine, and off I sent my two shots again. My contemporary was a little slower and we waited for him. On to the standing sticks. Advice on these has always been shoot quickly when the target is in the right place, as the gun will naturally move a fair bit and it will only get worse. I got the job done, and when the man next door was finished we went to look. Only 5 shots in my target. I couldn’t believe it. They were nicely grouped. What had happened? Then I saw 7 in the next door target.
That counted as a fail for me, but I had 2 more ‘lives’. Running through the process again, and I made no mistake this time.
I packed up and said my goodbyes. I had met some great people on the course, mainly local, and would have some good contacts for the future. With the course passed (but certificate due in 6 weeks or so) I reflected on the car journey home.
It was an extremely useful course, and although I have a lifetime’s shooting experience with small game and vermin, and had shot a few deer beforehand, I got a lot out of it. I would go as far as saying I think it is right I had to sit this before being able to use a deer legal centre fire on large animals. I say this for safety, although I would like to think I understand the risks sufficiently, but also from a welfare point of view. Understanding how to take the right shot, and equally importantly what to do when it goes wrong, is essential. Chris allowed us to understand that a shot would one day go wrong for some reason or other, and taught us how an injured deer should be tracked and dealt with. There are some who may come to the course with a lot of deer experience, as there were on my course, and I think they would all agree they found it valuable.
For those who have a lifetime experience of shooting one type of deer in one setting and don’t intend to do anything else, it may not be of value, but for anyone wanting a grounding in other types of stalking and species it is something that should not be missed.