Andrew Papworth, experienced DSC1 trainer and assessor, runs through some of the challenges and gives his advice on how to succeed in the DSC1 shooting test.

Candidates attempting to pass their DSC1 assessment nowadays tend to fall into one of three camps, with varying degrees of experience. Firstly, there are the complete novices who haven’t done any deer stalking or any other rifle based sport. Secondly, the experienced shooter who has been involved with shotguns, airguns, or target shooting. And thirdly, the experienced stalker who has been involved in stalking for some time but has only just decided to achieve the award.

Obviously, the above list is not all-inclusive and I have had to generalise for the purposes of illustration, I do not mean to insult anyone. However, each of these categories brings their own challenges when taking the assessment – especially the shooting test – and awareness of how your level of experience acts as either help or hindrance may help you prepare.

Here is a recap on what the shooting test entails:

  • 100 metres      3 shots to be placed into a 4″ circle from prone or simulated high seat.
  • 100 metres      2 shots into the killing zone on a deer silhouette from prone or a simulated high seat.
  • 70 metres        2 shots into the killing zone on a deer silhouette from sitting or kneeling.
  • 40 metres        2 shots into the killing zone on a deer silhouette from standing.


In each of the positions ordinary stalking aids may be used, but they must be what you would use and carry in the field.

I see so many people get totally stressed out by the fact that they are asked to demonstrate their ability to shoot accurately. I have put ‘accurately’ in italics as I don’t consider this to be the best description of what is being tested. What you are demonstrating is the ability to be able to shoot a deer humanely at these ranges. If you already shoot deer you should be considering this each time you take up the rifle to a live animal, when the stress and gravity of failure should be a great deal higher than for your DSC1.

Returning to those categories of candidates’ experience above, let’s see where the main of problems lie.

The complete novice has usually had little or no experience of rifle shooting or centre-fire rifles, and any they have had has usually been from just one position – prone or off the Land Rover bonnet with their friend’s rifle. They may need to pass their DSC1 to be able to get access to a rifle before they can start stalking. This means that when they come to take the test they are completely in at the deep end.

The second group have experience of guns of some description, but usually lack the ability to use different shooting positions and on occasion have no experience of centre-fire rifles.

The third group, the experienced stalkers, have experience of some shooting positions, either from pest control or stalking, and they often bring raw ability. However, their shooting positions may have evolved to suit what they do most of. And then, in the field, people often move or stalk in such way as to favour the position they most like to use, further limiting the positions they are practised at.

All of the above has a common theme – a regular weakness for candidates in using the different shooting positions.

The test – the zeroing phase

The first part of the shooting test, the zeroing phase, is a good opportunity to ensure the basics are correct. This requires three shots placed into or breaking a 4” circle at 100 metres. This is not a 4” group; the required standard is for each round to be placed within 2” of the centre aiming point of a target.  With modern equipment this should be extremely easy, but when mixed with stress, unfamiliar firearms (for those borrowing a rifle) and the pressure of the assessment situation equalling more stress, this phase can be a lot harder than it should.DSC_0012.jpg smaller

Very often a complete novice can pass this part of the assessment with relative ease; if schooled in the correct principles of accurate shooting the kit is able to get the job done with a limited amount of influence from the candidate. The main reasons that people find the zeroing phase difficult is either that they haven’t turned up with a zeroed rifle, or they have a large or hard kicking calibre and have not had enough trigger time to get used to it. Some also have a desire to fight the recoil. Putting it simply, they are not following good marksman principles. These require practice and body control, which can only be learned by repetition.

Good marksman principles are:

  • Natural body alignment with the target.
  • Firm but not tight hold of the rifle.
  • Correct cheek weld resulting in correct sight alignment.
  • Good breathing and heart rate control.
  • Smooth trigger squeeze.
  • Uninterrupted follow through – hold the trigger back after firing and don’t fight the recoil!
  • Reload and do it all again in the same way.

The deer target phase

For this phase you need to put six shots into the large and very generous killing zone on the approved black silhouette target. Two from 100 metres, from prone or simulated high seat; two from 70 metres, sitting or kneeling; two from 40 meters, standing. You can use shooting aids as carried in the field (bipod, sticks etc), but anything that is obviously not going to be carried into the field, such as large sand bags, bench rests or Land Rovers cannot be used in the shooting test.

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The area that people tend to find the most difficult is the 70 and 40 metre shooting positions – sitting or kneeling and standing. The main reason for this is usually that they have just not practised these positions before the day. We all get used to the shooting positions that we use and favour these in our approaches and selection of the firing point. When having to use an unfamiliar position during a test this creates extra pressures. Practice getting into the positions and finding out what is most comfortable for you. We are all different shapes, sizes and flexibility and so what suits one doesn’t necessarily suit another.

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Preparation before the assessment

Practice with your rifle if you have one and a safe place to shoot. Practice with a rim-fire or air-rifle if you have one or failing this practice getting into and holding positions with a broom if necessary. It might seem a bit ‘Dad’s Army’ but it’s better than nothing!

Start studying at least one month before the date of your course. If you attend with a view to the training being a revision session you will get a great deal from it.

Reading, more reading, watching, absorbing. Use absolutely any way that works for you to take in knowledge on deer that is relevant to the DSC1.

Read the manual more than once, go through the questions and get a good understanding of why each answer is correct. Don’t just learn the answer as this doesn’t give you any underpinning knowledge required by the standard. Don’t turn up without having opened the DSC1 manual beforehand. It will be a hard few days for you!

If reading isn’t your preferred learning media then try the DVDs such as those made by David Stretton or the British Deer Society (BDS) on ecology and identification, gralloching and carcass inspection. There are also DVDs on butchery that are most informative, though this information is not required for DSC1. There are lots of related videos on You Tube (beware). And you may also gain lots of valuable information by speaking to existing stalkers (be very aware).

Experience backed up by best practice is an extremely valuable way to learn and prepare. Copies of Best Practice Guides are available from the Deer Initiative (DI) website. Going out stalking as a guest or client of a reputable stalker can be invaluable (ask questions whenever there is time). And look out for stalkers evenings or days run by the DI, BDS, BASC, and others. You will also find other courses such as gralloching, game meat hygiene etc.