In a thought-provoking column, recreational stalker Al Gabriel calls on the industry to take the support of his professional colleagues more seriously.

Throughout our evolutionary history, hunting has played an important role in the development of human societies and the acquisition of that rare but precious protein. The fact remains that hunting is an activity fraught with mortal dangers. Our hunts were not always one-sided; we were also on the menu for fearsome predators.

Fast forward several millennia and we now live and hunt in an environment devoid of apex predators—in the British Isles, at least—and we fear nothing when we are out deerstalking. But not all is as it seems. Anyone considering taking up deerstalking must be aware of the dangers surrounding this noble and romantic profession. The dangers faced by modern deerstalkers can be split into four interconnected categories.

Occupational hazards

The real dangers of deerstalking can often seem innocuous in origin. Look around your stalking fraternity and you will soon realise that the older generation of deerstalkers suffer from some common yet invisible ailments and disabilities. First, there are subtle injuries caused by decades of stalking; high-frequency hearing loss is one of them.

While moderated rifles are easier on eardrums, even moderated bangs are still loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss decades down the road. Then there are those niggly back injuries, knee injuries and so on, especially if you have been dragging Highland stags the old-fashioned way. From a practical standpoint, deerstalking is up there with the most dangerous lone-working professions you can think of. These mortal dangers become vividly apparent only when one experiences a life-and-death situation or attends a first-aid and forestry course.

As it happens, I attended such a course about five years ago. I was amazed when I discovered that an NHS ambulance would not be able to come anywhere close to my ground and that the coastguard was my best hope, if I survived long enough inside a pine forest. Luckily, there are devices you can purchase to help you with lone working conditions.

Recreational stalkers are rarely hindered by strict standard operating procedures. Most of us usually go out without lone-worker devices or even informing a family member which grounds we are going to. This is a critical error and can have a fatal outcome. Arterial bleeds in the field are very dangerous and can be fatal (and are most likely to be caused by a stalker’s own knife rather than a flying bullet or at the wrong end of an antler, a lesson I learned the hard way).

High-seat incidents and misfires are rare but not unheard of. High seats are often targeted and tampered with by antis and saboteurs. I remember a couple of years ago finding one of my high seats with two missing bolts in key areas. To this day, I am not sure if it was a person who desperately needed two free bolts or a more sinister attempt to see me crash down 8ft to the ground.

Operating in the outdoors, especially in hot summer days and sub-zero conditions, is risky and brings its own challenges. Appropriate clothing is key. As the Norwegian saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

Biological agents

While we may no longer fear bears and wolves, other dangers are entering our environment at an alarming rate. The origins of COVID-19 are still being investigated; however, the current pandemic has focused in our minds that viruses crossing between multiple species, as was the case with SARS, bird flu and swine flu, are becoming
a regular occurrence.

Granted, the majority of these events tend to occur in Asia and Africa where agricultural practices are of low standards, exacerbated by the consumption of bush meat and the illegal wild meat trade. But what about the British Isles? We consider ourselves to be a rather civilised bunch and somewhat fussy when it comes to our cuts of meat—what dangers lurk in and on our deer? 

Zoonotic diseases—that is to say, those transmitted through other species into humans—are on the rise throughout the world and our deer are no exception. It might surprise you to know that there are real mortal dangers carried by our harmless-looking deer. These dangers range from bacteria, viruses, worms and—my favourite—ticks. It is worth nothing that a third of emerging diseases in humans over the past two decades have had some sort of animal origin.

Lyme disease is perhaps one disease most people would be familiar with; I knew a friend who suffered a heart attack because of it. Most people seem to know somebody living through the nightmare that is Lyme disease. Even nowadays, where the apparent impact of Lyme has been circulating in the media, I am still amazed to see some deerstalkers not taking it seriously. Luckily, technology is catching up.

Advanced clothing impregnated with compounds to kill off or deter ticks, as well as sprays and fabrics that are designed to keep ticks off your skin, are now commercially available. While progress has been made towards a viable vaccine, we are still some time away from a major roll-out. The best protection remains a robust tick prevention and checking routine. Then there are the up-and-coming diseases such as a tick-borne encephalitis, which has started to keep me awake at night.

Psychological vulnerabilities

Deerstalking brings tremendous joy and well-being when conducted in a recreational manner. The same cannot be said for all professional stalkers. Full-time stalking has a significant impact on the stalkers’ mental well-being as well as on his or her family, who are often awake every time the stalker leaves at first light, and the stalkers often miss out on family dinners, birthdays and anniversaries.

The diminished quality time with family and prolonged solitary conditions are not to be taken lightly. While it is common for those of us firmly planted in an office to fantasise about stalking all year round, it is important to recognise the hardship and the emotional cost experienced by stalkers and their families.

Deerstalkers are often the solitary type and prefer the company of trees to people, but even stalkers have their limits. Self-care is vital: one must ensure that family and friends are emotionally taken care of at all times. Work-life balance has never been more crucial.

Digital folly

Finally, there is another type of hygiene deerstalkers must pay attention to: digital hygiene. Online and social media attacks have started having an impact on people’s lives. While there is nothing wrong with sharing what we do and why we do it, there are some considerable risks and it is up to you to exercise judgement.

Depending on your lifestyle, your chosen profession and circle of friends, the fact that you hunt may put you at a disadvantage at, say, a job interview, or worse, lead to personal attacks on yourself, your business or your family members. Post at your own risk. 

The mortal dangers of deerstalking are endless but worth it. 

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