I recently bought some items from the BDS. Within the packaging were some leaflets showing some of the training provided.
I see BDS offer a 2 day level 2 course for £500 or their about. To me this seemed to give a conflict between BDS and their AW's. Not to mention the strange idea that it's good to "get it done" in 2 days. Surely these AW's put alot of effort into being AW's. I know they are not supposed to charge for witnessing, but it does give an edge to their offering of stalking if they witness your paid stalk. Now there in competition with the very organisation they belong too.
I'm fairly new to stalking but have completed both level 1 and 2. Not because I want a piece of paper in order to say "i'm a good stalker" but because I realized there was alot to learn and alot to do poorly if out in the field with little knowledge. I paid for many days out with a number of PH's. Some I preferred to others but all people with considerable knowledge for me to tap into before completing a 4 day level 1 course with Donnington Deer Services. Yes I had 4 days of travel costs, 4 days without earning any money (self employed) and a not insignificant cost. However I learned more than I would have from just reading the book, and left with the confidence I could cull deer in an effective, humane way and keep the carcass edible.
Having level 1 opened up the chance to join a syndicate, which I did and stalked for around a year putting in some 30+ days on the ground. So I had now some experience, whether it be the right way or not I didn't know. What I did know was that at the beginning of my stalking I made many mistakes leading to few deer on the ground, a large dent in my pocket and not a lot for dinner. By the end of the year my success rate had improved dramatically. So something must be ok.
I then see that within the next year or 2 it's likely that many land owners/managers will require stalkers to attain level 2 to continue on the ground.
With this in mind I decided to continue with the process. I always had the view that level 2 was an opportunity for me to show a qualified and experienced person that I had attained a level of skill suitable for me to go out alone and stalk deer. What it wasn't going to do was make me a better stalker just because I shot 3 deer in a couple of days. I took the view that it would be sensible to use a decent amount of the time allowed (3 years) to reach a satisfactory level. I took a year. I shot many deer un-witnessed during this time. I also payed for 3 stalks on an AW's ground where I managed to cull the deer required. As with every stalk I learned something and managed to show an appropriate skill. Now I'm waiting to get the call and hopefully the paperwork will be done. The learning will however never end. To me it's not about "getting it done". It's about being happy you can find deer, stalk deer, decide which to shoot or not, make a good shot and deal with all that comes after the shot. Now I accept this can be done in 2 days in a deer park, but does it give a stalker a chance to learn from mistakes, and put in practice that learning another day? Or does it just tick the boxes and make him OK. Level 2 passed?
I'm sure BDS have promoted the benefit of training very well, and land managers have taken the bait so to speak, becoming the authority on best practice etc they have positioned themselves well to forward the principle of stalkers having a responsibility to shoot deer in a humane and sustainable manner.
With this in mind it appears to me that they (BDS) now have a conflict between promoting the level 2 and it's completion using AW's who are NOT supposed to make money from witnessing a stalk. The SD member who I used certainly didn't and must have spent some time filling in all the boxes on the portfolio. Yes he charged me for the stalk (as expected) but to my mind carries out his duty as an AW purely because he believes in the principle of good ethics and deer management. (let me know if I'm too naive).
I'd be interested what both AW's and potential candidates think to this. My view is that BDS should further good practice through the AW scheme and not some short course aimed at getting potentially very inexperienced guns a piece of paper rather than a well earned grounding in stalking. I would encourage other like me not to get caught up in "getting it done" but to use the time to get experience and learn from all your stalks. Once you are a competent stalker the experience of being witnessed will be irrelevant as it will be perfectly normal practice for you.