I came across this whilst searching for "fox whilst stalking" condition... It's surprising how many laws we can break without giving it a second thought.
Let your spring fancy fly as free as a bird. Just imagine that some morning soon you will be stalking on your own low ground woods and fields! In your home, the shrill summons of the alarm clock will rouse you well before dawn on an April or May morning. Even if at so early an hour you cannot yet anticipate the morning’s outing with unbridled enthusiasm, you should at least be conscious of the legal liabilities and obligations which may affect you.
As you settle your knife on your belt, you should be aware that carrying your favourite stalking knife could potentially lead to your prosecution. It is an offence (in criminal law) to have in your possession in a public place a knife with a blade that exceeds three inches in length without good reason or lawful authority. Ironically it is a defence for a person to prove that he had the knife with him for use at work. This defence would therefore be available to a professional stalker but not to a recreational one…as only the professional would be “at work”. (This is of course an absurd distinction, and the sort of nonsense that is all too frequently inflected on countrymen by ignorant urban legislators.) Turning back to S. 139 Criminal Justice Act 1988, the highway, a lay-by or a service station car park are all public places so you should exercise discretion in wearing cutlery on your belt in these. Whilst you have a “good reason”, it is prudent to avoid having to prove it.
Your rifle will have been locked in your gun cabinet overnight. Condition 4(a) of every Firearms Certificate consists of a standard condition requiring the Certificate Holder to store his firearms securely. Breach of this Condition can lead to the revocation of your Firearms Certificate.
Offending Certificate Holders may also be prosecuted in the criminal courts for breach of the Condition. S. 1(2) Firearms Act 1968 applies in the case of firearms, and S 2(2) for shotguns.
Before setting off for your stalking ground, you need to consider what precautions need to be taken to ensure safe custody of your stalking rifle in transit from home. Default in this respect, resulting perhaps in the theft of the rifle from a car park or after a road traffic accident, could again result in revocation and conviction – a nasty “right and left” and not an anticipated part of the outing at all.
You, I am glad to say, arrive without incident at your stalking ground. It is still dark when you arrive and although you can go to your High Seat and perch up there, the law stipulates the legal shooting time for deer starts an hour before sunrise and ends an hour after sunset. It is an offence under S.3 Deer Act 1991 to shoot deer outside these hours, other than in exceptional circumstances. “Sun Rise” and “Sun Set” times are routinely reported in the daily newspapers.
As you quietly walk to the High Seat you have the comfortable feeling of your .243 bolt action rifle on your shoulder….this just exceeds the minimum calibre for a deer rifle in England, with the Deer Act stipulating .240 as a minimum. You are also aware of the Conditions on your Firearm Certificate. In your case a Condition has been attached to the Certificate allowing the use of this rifle for deer control and the shooting of foxes on this land (and on other land) so you know you will not have any certificate problems this morning.
You climb up and settle into your High Seat, which is soundly and safely constructed and kept by yourself in first rate repair. As the Occupiers Liability Acts 1957 and 1984 impose a duty of care on the owners and occupiers of land in respect of injury to visitors (sometimes including trespassers), it is asking for trouble to have unsafe high seats in disrepair, from which such persons may fall and injure themselves.
The light is coming fast now with the darkness being supplemented by the paler shades of pre-light of the spring morning. Minute by minute, objects take shape and you strain your eyes to see movement on the ride in front of you. The first animal you actually see is a dog fox. Although your Firearms Certificate is conditioned for the shooting of foxes, you do not shoot them here on the woodland owner’s instructions. If you were to shoot a fox here, it would be in breach of your Stalking Licence. This would be in breach of the law of contract. As it is, you are able to briefly enjoy the shadowy sight of “Charles James” going about his morning’s business. Very likely he is hunting for his cubs, which will be always hungry and demanding by this stage of the spring.
Some minutes after he has gone you have a sighting of a roe doe which is between her winter and summer coats. In England the close season for roe does is from 1 March – 31 October and so the doe is protected by law. She is evidently heavily pregnant and now only a few weeks away from giving birth to her fawn or fawns. You have no thoughts of shooting this beast. What you see is a roe deer doe browsing discretely on choice spring shoots.
As you watch, however, you wonder where the Buck is, as whilst doe culling back in February you saw a mature six pointer in velvet accompanied by a scruffy yearling. With an open season for roe bucks from 1 April to 31 October, this late April morning is not only open season for bucks, but also prime roe buck stalking time. Although the big buck is in season he is off the cull list, as he is a good looking “stud” beast for breeding purposes. As you watch your front, quite unexpectedly the yearling gallops across the ride without stopping hotly pursued by the Six Pointer. The yearling would have been an ideal buck to take but, unless he creeps back, it looks unlikely there will be the chance of a shot this morning. The Six pointer will drive him away until he is out of his sight, if not his mind. He will not tolerate the youngster with the annual rut just weeks away.
You ponder on these matters of stalking law and lore, the leaving of a female deer because she is in close season and the respective rejection and selection of the mature and yearling males as part of good deer management. The first is a matter of compliance with the law; the second is the child of a soundly based cull plan. As you think of these things, you become aware of a smaller animal in the bramble at the edge of the ride. It is a muntjac doe and, like the muntjac buck, legal quarry throughout the year. The law prescribes no close season for this species at all. As you run the binoculars over her, you become aware she too has a kid with her. You decide to leave the doe to avoid making an orphan of it. This is good humane practice, although it leaves you wondering whether you will ever get a shot this morning at all! However, your doubts are soon dispelled by the emergence on to the grass ride of a fine muntjac back in summer pelage. He stands broadside at 125 metres and you take a careful engine room shot. Even with the .243 calibre this deer - which in due course weighs in at less than 12 kilos with the head and legs off – jumps and runs off the ride into the adjacent undergrowth. At least muntjac have the same protection as other deer as to minimum calibres and, subject to very limited exceptions, cannot be shot with a rifle of less than .240 calibre.
Although in parts of continental Europe it is illegal to stalk deer without either having a dog or access to one, English law does not stipulate this. It is therefore up to the individual stalker’s conscience to keep and train a dog for deer stalking. You, being a good chap, can call on old Kaiser who has been asleep in the car. Taken to the ride, the old labrador soon finds a blood trail and then the carcass of the beast, which had run into the undergrowth in a semi circle before collapsing in the thickest bramble cover.
After admiring your buck, which without Kaiser would have been lost, you have the gralloch to do. You are well aware, with food and hygiene regulations being what they are now, that great care and good practice are required in handling, cleaning and hanging the carcase. Unless you have a Game Dealers Licence, you can only sell the beast to a game dealer. You know it is against the law to sell it to anyone else.
By the time you have dealt with your muntjac, is still early enough to stalk further on foot. You set off along the woodland ride and, leaving the wood without incident, glass the woodland edge and adjacent fields. There you see a fallow pricket out in the open. This male fallow deer may be legally culled in April the too, short close season for male fallow deer being from lst May – 31 st July. However you have shot your quota of male fallow deer for the season so spare him. The pricket stands proud on the skyline and you note with professional interest that you would have had no safe background against which to take a shot. Although there is no specific statute law prohibiting you from taking an unsafe one, you would never do so. If you did and injury resulted then you could be prosecuted for taking the dangerous shot that caused an accident, perhaps under S. 20 of the Offences against the Persons Act. Worse still of course serious injury or death could be occasioned to some chance victim. Again, a case when good stalking lore and practice are more important than the law in ensuring the safety of others. In the coming sunshine of the early spring morning, you stalk on into the breeze using this for cover from scent and the hedge to avoid being seen. As you approach your boundary, you see and stalk a scruffy yearling roe buck which is feeding greedily on tender hawthorn shoots. If the position of this buck was such that the bullet or shrapnel from it would pass on to the neighbour’s land, then you could not shoot it without committing a constructive trespass. However, you are lucky this morning and take a shot with an earth background on your own land. The buck turns to the shot and runs through the boundary hedge before collapsing on the neighbour’s field.
Under a reciprocal arrangement with your neighbour you have permission to go on his land to retrieve your buck. As you do, you think of the good sense of this arrangement. Without it, you would be trespassing by entering your neighbour’s land. If you took your rifle with you, you could be prosecuted in the criminal courts for trespassing with a firearm. Also, your buck, having fallen over the boundary, would be the property of the adjoining owner.
By now the sun is shining and it is time to getting off the ground. You walk back across the fields with a bulging roe sack. When you reach the muntjac buck you shot earlier; you stuff that in too and have a final few hundred yards walk with an uncomfortably heavy load. You smile to yourself at the load. You would not let any employee stalker carry such a weight as it might result in a claim for injuries incurred at work. As a recreational stalker, you only have to look after your own back.
Arriving back at your vehicle, you take a few minutes rest in the sunshine with old Kaiser. It’s a time to savour the magic moments of the spring morning. Apart from the sight of the fox and the roe, you will have registered numerous small incident and moments, all footnotes in your experience of the natural world. You open your coat and enjoy the sun, and old Kaiser enjoys it too. You prolong the moment as long as you can until it is time to go. Then, taking precautions for the safe transit of your rifle and ammunition, you drive home well satisfied with a successful and well conducted outing, completed in compliance with the civil and criminal law.