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Scottish Countryside Alliance responds to Deer Consultation: Sighting Devices

The use of light intensifying, heat sensitive or other special sighting devices to shoot deer at night (recommendation 7).

Deer welfare is, quite rightly, at the forefront of any consideration when controlling populations. The shooter must attain a clear and humane shot, with confidence. Any variation in kit, outside of what is regularly used and practiced with, is a potential factor for a decrease in the likelihood of achieving this purpose. 

Shooting using a standard daytime scope or other device will allow for the clear visibility of a target, a must when taking a shot. Scopes or devices that may be used at night, deliver a reduced overall field of vision, and often will not show obstructions as well as during daylight hours. Bullet deflection, even by a couple of centimetres, may result in a poor shot and the wounding of an animal. Ricochet, resulting in the significant deflection of a bullet, may pose a risk to other animals nearby, and the public in general. 

Non-lead bullet manufacturers have made significant improvements to modern projectiles, but these are still much more prone to ricochet than a bullet with a lead core. Shooting at night, with a reduced field of vision through a night vision scope (or similar) would also increase the chances of this unless the operator was well-practiced in shooting and the operating of their equipment and had significant knowledge of the terrain. It is vital, and a part of best practice, that a suitable backstop is available to catch the bullet when pulling the trigger. This may prove much more difficult to assess at night and through a piece of equipment that offers the shooter far less information. 

Other detail that may be missed or misinterpreted is the sexing of the deer. It may be more difficult to identify male from female and could heighten the risk of leaving dependent young. 

The Scottish Countryside Alliance would welcome the widened use of the already established Fit and Competent Register. To be registered you have to be able to show that you are trained over and above minimum level (DSC1), which is regarded as the first qualification level when deer stalking. Fit and Competent stalkers must either have passed the DSC level 2 or have the level 1 qualification and the endorsement of two other highly competent shooters. 

This would then ensure that a higher level of competence and experience was attained before shooting at night with night vision equipment. Both deer welfare and public safety concerns would be better addressed by utilising this framework. 

Guidance should also be in place and included within the Deer Best Practice Guides, which is freely available to anyone who may be controlling deer. 

An addition in relation to shooting at night would also be welcomed as part of the current DSC level 1 course, but would not automatically allow a successful candidate to operate at night with this equipment. This would only act as an introduction to shooting at night.

Some night vision scopes are also suitable to be used in the daytime as standard scopes are. These have a very clear field of view, as with any other standard scope. It is generally very onerous and time-consuming having to swap scopes around for shooting during daylight and nighttime hours, so it is important that it is made clear that a night vision scope that has the full ability to operate effectively during the day, is permitted. This would enable those who conduct pest control (foxes and rabbits) at night to be able to control deer during the day without having to change scopes or buy separate rifles. It would also enable shooters to become more proficient with an individual piece of equipment. Those who are not sufficiently trained or registered to shoot at night would have to adhere to the current standard of only shooting deer up to one hour after sunset.

In summary, the Scottish Countryside Alliance would support the introduction of night vision equipment to cull deer, but consideration should only be given to those who have reached an acceptable level of experience and / or training and are registered on the Fit and Competent Register with NatureScot.

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