For many of us joining a deer stalking syndicate is the only way to get into stalking in this country. I have done my fair share of paid stalking and I still do if I only have some spare cash. Sometimes my wife or I treat myself to a stalk on my birthday or Christmas, but unfortunately I cannot afford to do it as often I would like… I have met many good guys this way and had some great time with them and really appreciate that. I do go out with tested outfitters from time to time to maintain good relationship, but for me joining deer stalking syndicate was the way forward. I post this info on the blog now, as many syndicates renew their leases in April-May, and then people tend to join/drop.
How deer stalking syndicates work
Usually someone gets or bids on a piece of ground to gain the right to shoot deer. As it can be quite expensive, a lease holder shares the cost and deer stalking with syndicate members. Also depending on a ground it might be impossible for a lease holder to execute the cull plan single handed, so he/she will need some help.
A lease holder usually gets the lease from one of the major forestry companies or if more lucky it might be private. There is only a handful of forestry companies operating and offering deer stalking leases in Scotland, and they all have various requirements. The lease goes to the highest bidder, however Forestry Commission pretends to have “points system” to select most suitable candidate with various criteria such as access to quad bike and tracking dog, first aid, DSC level 2 and other qualifications. They also supposed to prefer local stalkers, but I am not sure if this is the case.
Where to find information about deer stalking syndicates
If you want to become a lease holder and tender on a lease, main forestry companies advertise available deer stalking from time to time on their websites or via mailing lists.
If you want to join a syndicate, Internet and deer stalking and hunting forums are the best source of information. If you are lucky enough you might find out a lot of information about the ground, lease holder and previous cull figures from ex-members.
Many syndicate places are not advertised as it is quite easy to find candidates to join established and good syndicates, so you have to meet and talk to local people, attend local Deer Management Group or BDS meetings.
Because there is many more people looking for a syndicate than vacancies, some luck is also needed…
What to look for before joining
I have heard many horrible stories about people joining to find out there was no deer, or twice as many members as supposed to be, or the ground is booked all the time… so try to find out as much as possible before joining.
You will have to do the maths and calculate if it is worth joining. As a rule of thumb Forestry Commission land usually will cost £100 a roe. So with a cull plan of 30 roe deer the guide price for the lease will likely to be around £3000. With a typical syndicate of 6, a member would be expected to pay around £500 per annum. It is just guide price and it might be less if the ground is not too big (below 1000 acres) or much more if red, sika or fallow deer are present. Think about how many times per season you are going to go there, how far it is, cost of fuel etc and just do the meths yourself if it is worth the money.
For me this is most important factor besides the cost. Lease holder will have a cull plan to meet (if not met he/she will likely loose the lease… With a lease from one of the forestry companies cull plan can be exceeded no problems – they really hate deer and want them out…), and previous cull figures give good indication whether there are many deer or not at all. If the cull figures exceed the cull plan it is fair to assume there is a good number of deer present, but it must be confirmed during inspection (you have to go and walk the ground to state the obvious…) before joining. Some leases might include the clause the forestry company might send professional stalkers when cull numbers are not met, so make sure you know what is in the paperwork.
Make sure you know the type of ground and have a map of it. Walk the boundaries and check forestry tracks. It is usually more productive ground if there are some open spaces, restock and clear fell areas. There is not much fun with a mature woodland and only rides and tracks to stalk… Also Scottish mature forestry is often in a shocking state with plenty of wind damage trees on rides and rotten fences… It is green, but not very pleasant to the eye…
If you do not have 4×4 and quad like me, make sure you will be able to get to the forestry in any weather and get the deer out. It is not much fun to drag a stag through overgrown rides or mature sitka/pine forestry. I carried two roe in a roe sack numerous times from the other side of the forestry, and always swear it was the last time… but I somehow to it again… Also several times had to leave my car a mile away from the forestry because of snow or rain… Just be prepared to do that if you do not have 4×4…
Try to find out how many active members are there and whether they are local or not. There are many syndicates run by people living hundreds miles away and only visiting a couple of times a year. This might be good for you if you are local and can go out frequently leaving weekends for those who have to travel.
I also heard about syndicates with all members local and actively shooting, one on Monday, another on Tuesday, and so on, which must be a real pain and they must disturb the place and make deer nocturnal and impossible to stalk and execute the cull plan…
Do your homework
Listen to other people before you join. Try to get as much information as you can, talk to ex-members, why they dropped and their impressions. And most important: go and walk the ground. If possible ask lease holder to show you around and also walk the boundaries and promising places with map. Look at tracks. Are there tracks of all resident deer species? If it is mainly roe deer you should see fraying marks. Count them to estimate the number of mature bucks. Even though it is not the time of fraying, you should still see fraying marks from the previous year.
In promising “deery” areas you should see deer dung. In mature forestry there should be plenty on rides and boundaries. Count them and mark the places on your map, it is valuable information.
Look for high seats. There should be a few in critical places. If not you might need to build some, adding to the cost…
Look for human tracks as well. Are there many dog walkers, bikers, etc? They might be disturbing deer and out there at any time of day and night…
When you find a syndicate, enjoy it, you paid for the pleasure! Go as many times as you like respecting other members, shoot some deer and spend a lot of time to get to know the ground, your success ratio depends heavily on how good you are at finding deer. And deer will be in different places at different time of year, weather, wind etc. You have to spend a lot of time out there to figure it out.
There is always risk involved, just make sure you know what you are doing and you did all you could to check the ground. Good luck!