With more stalkers opting to formalise their skills, we look at what it means to take your DSC1 from the perspective of a novice and an experienced hunter

I awake in a panic, convinced I have overslept and missed my alarm. But it is still pitch black outside and a quick glance at my phone tells me it is only 3am.

I could do with a few more hours’ kip but there’s no chance of that now. My head is already buzzing with deer open season dates, antler casting dates, calving seasons, bullet velocities… I went to sleep thinking about them; I dreamt about them; and now I’ve woken up trying to remember them. Why? Because the editor, Dom, and I are about to take our DSC1 (Deer Stalking Certificate Level One) and the stress of being ‘back at school’ is taking its toll! I trudge downstairs to resume my revision, wondering why I am putting myself through this. Nobody forced me to, so why bother?

Why indeed? Well, there are several very good reasons. For some it’s about formalising years of knowledge and experience; for others it’s at the request of a landowner or employer. It’s not a legal requirement over here (yet) but it is one way – albeit not the only way – to ensure best practice and respect for the animal.

In Germany hunters must take their ‘Jagdschein’ to get a licence to hunt. This is an extremely thorough course with a minimum of 60 hours of theory, 60 hours of practice and a complex three-part exam. Anyone who’s ever hunted on the Continent will know that their approach to things is quite different, and respect for the quarry is of utmost importance.

Personally, I like this approach. I am taking my DSC1 because, as a newcomer to stalking, I want to ensure that what I lack in initial experience I make up for in knowledge so that I can do my best by the animal.

For Dom, a more experienced stalker, taking the DSC Level One is about filling in gaps in his knowledge and ‘crystallising’ what he already knows, as well as being a stepping stone towards his DSC Level Two. “I am also aware that there is a trend within the stalking fraternity to have these qualifications in order to get stalking leases, insurance etc,” says Dom, “and I think eventually it will become a legal requirement.”

So that’s why we found ourselves swotting away for a few weeks in the run-up to our course. It really was like being back at school – every day one of us would tentatively ask the other: “So, where have you got to in the manual?” or “Have you read this or that section yet?” – the responses to which would either elicit a feeling of quiet smugness or rising panic.

We are doing our DSC1 with Jelen Deer Services, based near Andover in Hampshire, and their course requires the learner to put in the study time beforehand – even an experienced stalker like Dom recognised, after looking at the hefty manual, that he couldn’t just assume he knew everything and not bother. The home study requirement means the Jelen course can be completed in one weekend, without any loss of important course contents. We all have very busy lives these days, so that is a big plus.

But the best thing about the study element of the course is the fantastic interactive learning centre (ILC) which candidates have access to. This comprehensive online resource contains handy revision guides and training aids, with practice tests that allow you to test yourself over and over until you are consistently getting scores over the pass rate. There are smaller tests, which are broken down into sections – deer identification, safety, ballistics etc – as well as proper mock DSC1 exams, the questions for which are all taken from the bank of 284 possible exam questions. Theoretically you could just keep testing yourself until you know all 284 off by heart and you’d pass – the written part anyway. Both Dom and I, and the other candidates on the course, agreed that the ILC was by far the best way to learn and gain confidence prior to the weekend.

That’s not to say that the onus is totally on the candidate to teach themselves – far from it, in fact. The Jelen team is made up of highly trained professionals with over 30 years’ experience in deer management, so it’s safe to say they really do know their stuff. And equally as important, they know how to teach it. This is reflected in their results: they boast a 100% DSC1 pass rate for 2011 and have maintained that so far in 2012. So, as if the prospect of facing public humiliation if we fail isn’t bad enough, Dom and I now have the added worry of not wanting to be the ones to break that record. No pressure then!

Find out how we get on, plus what the course entails, next month.