Extended Open Range Culling

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Written by Mike Allison
on September 29, 2019

The Need for Extended Open Range Capability

In the UK most lowland deer stalking is effected at ranges between 20 and 100m in woodland, and up to 150m in open farmland. In open hill (Highland) situations the average is probably nearer 200m.  For most deer management applications the ability of the shooter to achieve accurate shots at these ranges should be well within his/her capability.

With the changes in agricultural policy over the last 20 years, mechanisation and technological advancements in farm machinery – particularly with harvesting and cultivation machinery – there has evolved a requirement for larger fields, or what we term as open range areas. In downland Hampshire, Berkshire, parts of Essex and other areas, open range areas may extend to over 200 acres. Controlling wild deer on such areas presents many challenges.

Deer species generally – especially Fallow, Red deer, and to a lesser extent Roe deer – have evolved as a highly adaptive species, and have not only come to utilise these areas to provide important food sources, but have no doubt learned that such areas can provide adequate protection from predators (including man) through distance alone.  Most deer are able to spot the approach of danger from a long distance.

In most cases, deer will react to the approach of predators by fleeing in the opposite direction, and have the advantage of having many hundreds of metres head start.

This behavioural habit can present significant problems for deer managers seeking to control Fallow and reach cull targets in such areas, and is further aggravated when large numbers of deer flee over the boundary only to return during the hours of darkness to continue feeding.

In order to control deer in open range areas, there is a vital need for Field Operators to be able to effectively cull at extended range, or even long range in extreme circumstances. There are undoubtedly shooters who possess the field-based skills, knowledge of ballistics and the equipment to take accurate shots at ranges far in excess of the average shooter, however relatively few people have the confidence, experience or equipment to effectively and consistently cull deer at extended ranges in excess of 250m.

This article is not designed to encourage long-range shooting, but is aimed at helping professional deer managers and stalkers understand the challenges faced when attempting extended open range culling.

Personal Performance Development

Attitude

It is important that the mental approach towards extended open-range shooting at deer is supported by a healthy, focused attitude underpinned with a ‘need-to-do’ rather than a ‘wish-to-do’ mindset. The overriding considerations must be total safety, followed closely by compassion for the animal/s and their welfare. Ensuring that the actions of the shooter avoid causing unnecessary suffering is a legal requirement under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The attitude of the shooter should form a solid foundation for his/her personal performance development. It will almost certainly shape the way in which the shooter performs going forward and will undoubtedly influence his/her ultimate competence as an open-range marksman.

Rationale

The shooter’s continued development to become an accomplished extended open-range shot is vital in order to carry out the job efficiently. However, there has to be more than just the desire to become a good shot.

Whilst almost all shooters strive for ultimate skill and accuracy with a rifle, in this case we need to keep extended open-range shooting in careful context. If the desire to shoot straight at extended to long ranges is the number one consideration, then the shooter needs to limit his/her activities to paper targets on designated ranges.

The extended open-range shooter’s primary focus should be on the safe, humane management of deer, and this should be reflected at all times throughout their skills development path.  

Belief Systems

To become a competent extended open-range shooter demands a unique belief system as part of the shooter’s psyche. The operator has to have equal belief in his/her abilities to achieve extreme accuracy, as well as total belief in what the capability of the equipment is.

This robust thought form will have one of the greatest influences on the shooter’s personal performance development, as without belief then the ultimate skill will simply not materialise.

Performance Analysis

Each shot fired by the operator should be the subject of careful pre and post-shot analysis as a means of operator performance monitoring and evaluation. It is a process that can be carried out relatively easily, but will yield useful information to aid the skills development process.

Performance analysis can be easily achieved by pre-shot planning, deciding where the precise shot placement needs to be, and then evaluating by post-shot inspection of both target boards or carcass inspection. Where the shot is placed exactly where anticipated, then this will serve to reinforce confidence.

However, where the shot placement is unexpected, then a more detailed investigation needs to be implemented in order to establish the cause. This should be done in a structured manner starting with the most obvious likely causes and then working through an investigative process until all possible mechanical and ballistic causative factors have been eliminated.

If a problem still exists, then it can almost certainly be attributed to human error – often one of the most difficult ‘faults’ to remedy.

Operator Performance Envelopes

Extended open-range shooting demands a huge level of self-discipline, especially where live animals are involved. Shooters generally have a good idea of what they and their equipment are capable of at a given range, and in most cases they will assess in a matter of seconds whether a safe, accurate and humane shot can be effected with any certainty.

Often a decision is made purely on the reading of the range-finder, combined with the operator confidence that help define their own personal performance envelope.

When the shooter exceeds his/her own personal performance envelope, then several variable factors become part of the overall equation and if the shooter is unsure of their abilities then doubt will creep in and the shooter will have exceeded their own personal performance capability. 

If the risk is taken and doesn’t pay off with a humane, well-placed shot then this can adversely affect operator confidence, but more importantly lead to unnecessary suffering of the ‘target’ animal, and a wounded animal at extended range may be difficult to recover.

If the shooter wishes to develop extended open-range capability further, then this should be done on artificial targets on designated shooting areas. There are several places in the UK where this can be practiced safely. WMS in Wales provides such a facility.

Importance of Operator Coordination

Controlling Fallow deer on open-range land is always difficult due to few approach route options, and the problem is compounded by the increased flight distances of disturbed animals. Effective control in these circumstances is difficult to achieve by only one person. There are distinct advantages to implementing a concerted approach to controlling open-range Fallow.

Initial control and overall management using several operators working in unison will undoubtedly improve effectiveness and can yield exceptional results. An operator working alone will probably have limited success compared to a joint effort by several experienced operators.

A successful working strategy would most likely start with:

Reconnaissance – An operator should be nominated to monitor open-range usage by deer for several days prior to the planned cull. Not only should the numbers of deer be assessed, but also movement patterns in relation to disturbance by humans.

Exit routes used by the deer should be plotted on a large scale map to aid shooters in selecting good strategic cull points aimed at maximising opportunities whilst maintaining safe arcs of fire.

Planning – Good planning of cull operations will be dependent on reliable information gathered during reconnaissance sessions. Whilst deer are quietly resting in the middle of large fields, several shooters can be placed in suitable positions from which to shoot. However, care must be taken to make good use of cover whilst getting into position whilst avoiding alerting animals on the wind. 

Each operator must understand their own designated arcs of fire and operational zones arranged in such a way that they eliminate any risk.

Communication – All operators must work as a highly synchronised unit to the point where knowing what your other team are thinking is almost instinctive. That way everyone will be aware of safe operating zones, and likely deer exit routes. 

The most effective communication media between team operators is without doubt good quality two-way radios, used with correct radio discipline. If these can be supported with covert ear-pieces and microphones, then communication between operators is greatly enhanced as even whispered conversation can be heard easily between the team members.

During actual culling operations, clear and well timed communications regarding deer movements and state of alertness are vital to give operators as much time as possible to prepare for deer travelling in their direction.

Implementation & Cull Sequencing – The cull operation must be carried out in both a structured and highly precise manner. Ensuring humane kills is a fundamental requirement under all circumstances, therefore culling sequence will have a significant bearing on cull efficiency and results.

Cull sequencing will depend on the management criteria, and so may vary between estates and management teams.

Where open-range culling of Fallow and Reds are concerned, then it is crucial that each animal in the group is assessed where possible. If it is a requirement for multiple culls to be achieved, then spotting the dominant animal/s in the group and dealing with them swiftly, but unhurried, will often pay dividends. 

The selective removal of key animals should cause sub-dominant animals and younger beasts to run only a short distance before stopping, allowing for subsequent culls to be achieved over a short time frame. 

Achieving good results is dependent on the shooter being able to identify and predict deer movement characteristics in response to what we do. The successful shooter MUST learn to ‘read’ the animals – a skill that will influence the decision-making process, and will ultimately affect the success or failure of efficient extended range culling. 

Choosing Team Members

Any co-ordinator requesting members for a culling team are likely to be met with a flood of hopefuls, all desperate for the opportunity to get involved.

It is vital that team members are selected with great care – especially if you are trusting them with your reputation! Suitable team members MUST be:

Experienced Deer Managers/Stalkers – Extended open-range culling is not for beginners. Whilst we appreciate that everyone has to start somewhere, in the field of high-pressure multiple culling then previous experience is crucial.

Safe – There can be no compromise with regard to safety. It is easy for the inexperienced operator or super-keen individual to switch focus from safe, calculated culling to the desire to get carcasses on the ground. 

Exceptional Shots – It goes without saying that the open-range culling arena is no place for those who are incapable of achieving extreme, consistent bullet placement time after time. 

Team Players – It is vital that ALL team operators strive to achieve an overall result rather than a desire to demonstrate their own personal best. It is not unusual for inexperienced operators to go into a type of ‘frenzy’ when faced with multiple ‘target animals’ where all other considerations can be neglected.

Possess Swift Decision-Making Capability – Where quick and effective results are needed, all operators need to be able to make split-second decisions prior to taking the shot. These include assessing safety and backstops, ‘target’ animal dominance in the herd, animal position, wind effects, distance and the position of other operators. 

Disciplined – Primarily from a safety angle and also animal welfare considerations, it is more important for operators to know when NOT to shoot. Discipline HAS to the very foundation of safe and effective operator competence.

Training

Jelen PWS, are training opportunities specifically aimed at experienced deer stalkers wishing to learn about and practice this very fine art in advanced shooting with relation to deer management.

As one of the UK’s foremost deer-related training providers, Jelen PWS are ideally placed to help you develop key skills in a field-based environment, allowing you to get the very best out of yourself and your equipment. Contact Jelen PWS on 01264 811155 or email on office@premierwildlife.co.uk for full details of our training opportunities in this subject.

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Mike Allison

Mike Allison

Founder and CEO

Nearly 40 years ago, Mike Allison Set out to raise the standards of deer control, management and husbandry in the UK.

To this day, his determination to continue this process has been unwavering.

Jelen PWS (Jelen Premier Wildlife Services) has become synonymous with the very best services in the wild, park and farmed deer sectors.

Mike’s commitment to the modern UK deer industry across all its sectors is evident through his conservation-led approach to delivering humane, ethical and sustainable deer control.

His rejection of the widespread mediocrity that typically surrounds wild deer management, and his refusal to accept unethical, inhumane and indiscriminate control techniques sets a standard within the industry.

Mike is married with 3 kids and loves them almost as much as his dog and his guitar!

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