Risk assessment


There are many aspects of practical deer management where personal health and safety or that of others should be considered. The aim of this guide is to highlight areas of risk and to encourage practitioners to consider the hazards and take steps to minimise them. Health and safety law generally requires that precautions are taken to avoid risk “so far as is reasonably practicable” and this is a good principle for individuals to adopt.


Hazards in wild deer management fall into the 3 main areas of personal safety, third party/public safety and food safety. The list below gives some of the more detailed aspects that should be considered.

Public Safety Where people might enter, travel, work in deer areas.
Confrontations when carrying firearms
Use of firearms Firearms/ammunition storage and security
Safe handling including maintenance
Safe background for shot
Hearing protection
Humane dispatch
Personal injury from live animal
Third parties safety
Safest method
Procedure at deer vehicle collisions or in built up situations (see DVC guides)
Lone working
Personal injury
First aid
Rough or remote terrain/Harsh weather
Personal/third party injury
Recovering injured parties
First aid
Vehicles and driving off road
4x4 and ATV use
Approved routes
Loads and loading
Maintenance and hygiene
Working at height
High seats
Tree climbing
Incident planning
Deer vehicle collisions
Disease outbreak
Accident in remote area
Manual handling
Lifting/dragging of carcasses and manipulation in confined spaces(vehicles, deer larders)
Lifting and manipulation of equipment such as high seats or larder waste bins
Working in deer larders
Slippery surfaces
Head injury on rails/hooks
Electricity and water
Handling chemicals
Carcass handling
Injury from antlers, hooves, teeth and damaged bones
Infection/cross infection
Using sharp tools
Carcass saws, wood saws, chainsaws
Meat hygiene
Food safety is tackled in a different way to other areas of risk usually using a Hazard and Critical Control Point (HACCP) approach (see the Meat Hygiene guide).
Lyme disease and other zoonoses
Spread of notifiable and other diseases
Personal protection and hygiene

Risk Assessment

A Risk is the chance, high or low, that somebody could be harmed by these and other hazards, together with an indication of how serious the harm could be. The usual way to minimise risk is to carry out some form of risk assessment.
The steps are:
1. Identify the hazards
2. Decide who might be harmed and how
3. Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
4. Record your findings and implement them
5. Review your assessment and update if necessary
In most cases the steps are easy to apply and you do not have to be a health and safety expert.

Hazards and risks associated with firearms use

The different hazards and risks associated with use of a firearm are of paramount importance.

The following guidelines are drawn from Coillte Teoranta’s Code of Practice on Sustainable Hunting and Shooting of Deer, Game, and other Quarry Species

  1. While stalking, it is recommended that the rifle be carried with an empty breech, bolt closed, the magazine full, safety catch applied, and the rifle slung over the shoulder preferably with the barrel forward and upwards, in order that the direction the muzzle is pointing can be seen at all times.
  2. It is recommended that the rifle should only be loaded before taking the shot.
  3. Always load the rifle in the same manner with the same number of rounds of ammunition. The trigger should only be touched if you intend to fire or to release spring tension having ensured that the breech is emptied.
  4. Continually check the safety catch as it can be pushed off accidentally by clothing or vegetation.
  5. Never take a shot without a solid backstop. This should be preferably solid earth – trees and bushes are definitely not adequate.  Avoid the risk of the bullet being deflected (ricocheting) either before reaching the target or after it.
  6. Always be aware of the position of roads, pathways, buildings, and areas regularly frequented by the public and never fire in their direction.
  7. Where more than one hunter is hunting in the same area, high visibility caps or vests should be worn at all times
  8. When crossing obstacles, gralloching (eviscerating) an animal, or climbing into high seats, ensure that the rifle is unloaded, the bolt closed and the safety catch applied.  In low light conditions use a finger or torch light to ensure the breech is clear.
  9. Regularly check the barrel for obstructions such as mud, snow, heather, etc.  Sealing the muzzle with insulating tape will prevent objects entering the muzzle.
  10. Never give or accept a firearm without ensuring the breech is cleared, indicate this by leaving the bolt open.
  11. In transit to and from the stalking grounds, the chamber and magazine should always be empty, the bolt removed and the rifle enclosed in a slip or case. 
  12. No shot should ever be fired if there is the slightest doubt about safety

Recording your risk assessment

If you carry out a risk assessment, keep a record of it. This is a legal requirement if you are self employed or employ 5 or more people. A simple written record is equally useful for personal use, for helpers, could form part of a lease agreement, and could support you if an incident occurs.
If regular actions such as checking high seats need to take place the details of checks made should be also be recorded
The bulk of the work of maintaining a risk assessment record is done when it is first created but is important to review your risk assessment from time to time or if circumstances change and to record that you have done so.
An example of part of a simple Risk Assessment record is in Table 2:


Who is at risk?

ControlsFurther ActionActions
By WhomBy whenDone?
Falling from high seatSelf, Co-workers, Others with legal access, PublicRegular maintenance. Check at each use. Exercise care when climbing. Attach “not for public use” or visual “No Climb” signs.
Place away from most used public areas
Check all of current high seat stock as of date to the rightnameannually by (date)yes/no/date
Accidental discharge of firearmSelf, Co-workers, PublicFollow safety advice from sources such as DSC 1 qualification and current best practiceongoingall firearms usersongoingongoing
Knife cuts/stabsSelf, Co workersCut away from self
Awareness of others. Care in holding, carrying, sharpening, cleaning, storing in safe manner
ongoingall usersongoingongoing

Other considerations

Issues such as public liability insurance cover, training and how you deal with public relations should all form part of your health and safety “package”.

Finally, any person or enterprise employing five or more employees is governed by the Safety, Health and Welfare Act 2005 (No. 10 of 2005). Statutory Instrument No. 299 of 2007, Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 sets put general principles underpinning the Act. The Health & Safety Authority has oversight responsibility for enforcement of the provisions of the Act and their website, www.hsa.ie, carries much relevant information on hazard management and risk assessment, as informative for the deer stalker as for an employer.