Why Deer Stalking?
My name is Jack Ruston. I run an online cooking channel called Ruston’s Boneyard. As the name would suggest it’s a lot about meat – where to get it, how to store it, prepare and cook it. But it’s also about why we should be eating meat, both for our health, and for the health of our planet. The appropriate grazing of ruminant animals, regenerative agriculture and sustainability are crucial tenets of this ethos. The Boneyard is about whole, unprocessed foods. It’s a counterpoint to the pervasive, well-funded ‘plant-based’ movement, that cynically uses misunderstanding, disinformation and lies to sell cheap, highly-processed agricultural by-products to a population who’ve cottoned on to the fact that chocolate biscuits probably aren’t the best idea. This is the new frontier, the vegan cash cow – irony fully intended.
As part of this pursuit of the past, of a more natural, evolutionarily consistent way of doing things, I want to hunt. Specifically, I want to learn to stalk deer. It’s no secret that we’ve lost our connection with food, with the land, the ecosystem and the animals that we share it with. We buy homogenised, sanitised meat from the ‘butcher’ counter at the supermarket. When do we ever hunt, kill and butcher a wild animal? Most of us, never. We’ve lost the skills, the impetus, even the stomach for it. To me this is unacceptable. It’s not that I want to kill, or revel in the gore of butchery – I’d rather not. But I eat meat, I love meat and I firmly believe in the wealth of evidence that shows that it should be our primary source of both nutrients and energy. That being the case, it’s my responsibility to put my money where my mouth is, and be prepared to do these things in order to feed myself and my family. I want to know what it really means to put food on the table, from the very start of the process to the very end.
Aside from this personal responsibility, I want to hunt deer because, surprisingly, someone has to. In this country, deer have no natural predators. We need to cull around 350,000 animals per year, in order to maintain the health of the six species that live here. In the past, wolves would have taken the old, the injured, the sick and the weak, as well as a good number of younger animals. This process of selective culling aims to replicate that predation, with the result that the deer remain healthy, and maintain a stable population.
Here in the U.K. hunting is not the ubiquitous right that it is in the U.S. and the rest of Europe. Here, hunting is seen as the domain of aristocrats on horseback, chasing foxes through the home counties with packs of dogs. It’s not generally considered to be something that any person has the right to do. Firearms are tightly controlled, and while a person can obtain a shotgun license to shoot driven game birds (provided the police can not show that this should not be granted), anyone wanting to hunt deer, or wild boar – the only substantial quarry here in the U.K – must show that their ownership of a rifle is ‘necessary’. Further hindrance exists in a lack of any public land on which to hunt. Permission must be obtained from landowners.
So, it’s not that easy to grab a rifle, shoot a wild animal, and feed it to your nearest and dearest. But is it possible? Can this be a part of life for someone like me? I decided to find out what was actually involved, and how to make it happen.
Through this thought process it was always forefront in my mind that this was a pursuit that needed to be conducted properly. I believe firmly in both the laws of our land, and in the unwritten contract that we have with our farmed animals, that being that we will provide them protection, comfort and care, up to the point at which their lives are swiftly and humanely ended. It’s of great importance to me that this contract, to which they can not agree, be strictly upheld. And of course the same consideration should extend to any wild animal that we hunt. To kill inexpertly, to injure, to cause pain and suffering is a cruelty that I would go to any length to avoid. To improperly grallock a deer (the removal of the internal organs and digestive tract), contaminating the meat and making it inedible, would represent the ultimate disrespect, and waste of that animal’s life. I needed to get it right, to learn best practice, and how to apply it. Realising that this wasn’t going to be achieved with YouTube videos, I began searching for a local organisation that may be able to offer some structured training.
Google led me to the www.countydeerstalking.co.uk website. They, the site informed me, are the UK’s leading supplier of deer stalker training and outings. Based in south London, and offering regular stalking on a number of estates in the south east of the UK, they are effectively my ‘local’ provider. There was no way I was going to be able to make this work if I had to go to the Scottish Highlands every time I wanted to gain experience.
The site is packed with information, articles and equipment reviews, and a couple of hours later I already had answers to many of the questions that had been starting to surface in my mind. First and foremost of these was ‘Is there some sort of course I can do to get me started?’ (I knew full well that I wasn’t going to get far without some practical instruction).
Answer: County Deer Stalking offer a one-day course – Proficient Deer Stalker Level 1. This is described as “a unique level of practical and theory-based training in the field, for those who wish to develop their skills and become Proficient Deer Stalkers…an established and widely recognised deer stalker qualification, that is designed to enable candidates to become competent trained hunters…perfect for the beginner and an ideal way to make a start in the exciting world of Deer Stalking”. I booked myself a one-to-one course with lead instructor Peter Jones.