Deer stalking must be one of the most regulated activities in Britain (and the way things are going here, that's saying something). By the time you actually get to pull the trigger on a live deer, your pockets are stuffed with Firearms Certificate, DSC this and DSC that, probably a Trained Hunter Certificate or two, written authority from the landowner, blah, blah, blah.
You'd think stalkers would kick against all this. Most folks I know are heartily sick of all the nannying rules and regulations that are heaped on us by Brussels, with the encouragement and connivance of our own government who jump on any chance to keep us under tighter surveillance and control. (Even the sheep are going to get ID tags).
But stalkers aren't like that, at least as a body (what is the proper term for a group of stalkers - a mist perhaps?). They seem to lap up all the regulations – and now the British Deer Society is demanding more!
The BDS has issued a press release demanding that killing deer with shotguns must be outlawed. Their argument seems to focus on "suspicions of the re-emergence of the practice of driving deer, particularly Muntjac, to a line of waiting guns." And yet they go on to state that this practice is already illegal.
I spoke to the BDS's David Kenyon, who put out the press release, to clarify their argument. He will shortly be publishing new research which, he says, shows that even using legal (AAA in England) shot, you can't be sure of a clean kill on deer at any range with a shotgun. (I remain to be convinced on that one – there has to be a range at which the deer is guaranteed to be 100% dead, it's just a question of how far that is).
And he believes that the way farming has changed in recent years, farmers don't drive round with shotguns any more so there's no need for the 'farmers exemption' which allows them to kill deer with a shotgun to prevent crop damage.
All worthy-sounding stuff, but I'm not convinced that the answer is a knee-jerk demand for "more regulation." Look where that's got us in the past.
If some people are organising illegal muntjac drives, the existing law is adequate to stop them. To me, this smacks of a solution looking for a problem. I guess it would be too cynical to suggest that it's a case of the stalking establishment looking to tighten its stranglehold on deer management in the UK.
In Britain generally and the countryside in particular, we are gradually being strangled with red tape. We need more rules like a hole in the head. It's time for zero tolerance on new legislation.
How about this for an idea: before any new law is passed, two old ones have to be repealed!
UPDATE 27/10: The BDS "report" is now available on the organisation's website in pdf form here ». At first glance it appears thorough - but it isn't. The shortest range tested is 20m (in my view the maximum range at which anyone should set out to shoot a deer with buckshot). And they haven't even considered solid slugs (the only sensible load for deer at the ranges they're testing). This is the sort of report that might result from a brief that specified: "write me a report that discredits shotguns for shooting deer." It tells us what we already knew - don't shoot deer with shotguns at longer ranges, or you won't kill them cleanly. (Oh, and don't use shot that's too small, which would be illegal anyway).