Deer stalking – a lady’s view
(Photograph: Tweed Media)
When we open our community beyond the damaging old stereotypes, we bolster our collective way of life against an uncertain future, says Julia Stoddart of the Scottish Association for Country Sports (SACS) as she encourages more women to get involved in deer management.
My recent appointment as an Approved Witness for the Deer Stalking Certificate Level Two (DSC2) caused me to reflect on my involvement in deer management. It has been a decade since I passed my DSC1, and seven years since I completed my DSC2. Mulling over the deer world more generally, I considered how few women I encounter in a professional context at work and in relation to this, the paucity of women taking an active and continuous role in deer management. How far have we come in the last decade?
My level one course was a ladies-only event, with five other women. After passing, I decided to pursue level two and try to build a fieldsports career, and this made me an anomaly on that particular course. The other participants were at different stages of life with recreational motivations for signing up for their DSC1. In subsequent years of assisting with DSC1 courses, stalking deer from one end of the UK to the other, and now venturing into the world of being a DSC2 Approved Witness, women stalkers with professional competence remain a tiny minority. I asked my old head stalker, a year into my apprenticeship, why he decided to enlist a young and clueless female novice to train and then, when I had proved my worth through unwavering determination and a clear affinity with deer and rifles, to help him on his leases as a pro-am stalker. His simple answer was that he knew, equally, that I would be competent and that I was unlikely to be given a chance elsewhere.
There are now more women carrying out deer management than when I started, but very few complete the Deer Management Qualifications; DMQ secretariat tells me that only 2.5 per cent of DSC1 holders are female, while for DSC2 the figure sinks to just 1 per cent. Anecdotal evidence from the professional deer managers and DMQ trainers of my acquaintance bears out this sad reality. Does it matter? How often have you seen anti-hunters conflate hunting with arrogant machismo, styling all hunters as insecure men who rely on firearms to make themselves feel powerful? This lazy misandry cannot be levelled at female hunters; indeed, research in the USA found that there was a positive correlation between increased participation of women in hunting and improved public perception and acceptance of hunters generally. And, as with all examples of women being under-represented – whether in the House of Commons or the FTSE100 boardrooms – the extra dimension of an alternate perspective is largely missing where one demographic dominates. A diversity of views and experiences brings hybrid vigour.
Female hunters are viewed by some people as unremarkable, and correctly so: only when we become universally unremarkable will we know that true progress has been achieved. Others view us as an unwelcome anomaly deserving of hostility. Where antis are concerned, perhaps that is because we are an inconvenient truth.
Women and hunting have been intertwined for thousands of years. Artemis was the ancient Greek goddess of hunting, ruthless and never less than precise with her aim; importantly she was also known as the protector of wildlife. So, too, was her Roman counterpart Diana. True hunters of all genders are committed conservationists, never taking more than is justifiable and leaving nothing behind them except footprints and gralloch. Animal rights activists deny this perceived duality, trying to view the natural world in artificial good-or-bad terms that put hunters firmly in the ‘bad’ camp. But hunters know – from our own experiences and from the collective consciousness of all the hunters that ever existed – that we are a part of nature, obligated to operate within its laws.
There is no dichotomy between conservation and hunting, or between being female and being a hunter. This ethos sits at the core of my work at the Scottish Association for Country Sports, a UK-wide fieldsports advocacy body that is now the largest membership association in Scotland. I could not do my job effectively without being personally invested in the preservation and continuation of sustainable hunting, and I thank my old head stalker for taking a chance and setting me on the right track. To know that you can successfully hunt a wild animal in its own environment, where the odds are stacked against you, is knowledge that speaks both to and from the primal core of humanity rooted deep within us all. By actively living out that knowledge, we demonstrate true integrity in a modern world where most people are fundamentally disconnected from their humanity. When we open our community beyond the damaging old stereotypes, we bolster our collective way of life against an uncertain future. I encourage any woman seeking to get involved in deer management to contact me, and to the gentlemen reading this, I ask you to follow the lead of the man who helped me over a decade ago.