The increasing number of high quality, affordable cameras with lenses as long as your arm has been accompanied over the last few years by increasing interest in getting close to nature to put the equipment through its paces. Rather than wait for nature to come to you, why not go to the nature. Deer are arguably the most challenging and wildest large animals in the UK to get close to, so we decided to report on this new sport of photography stalking and compare it to the more traditional variety (with a rifle).
At 0900 on 22nd June 2016 Hamish Rae, keeper at South Chesthill Estate in Glenlyon, Perthshire, met with his guests for the day who were staying in Chesthill House. Hamish took them up onto the hill in the estate land rover, then switched into the Argo Cat once they got to the steeper ground, high up in the hills. They then walked along the ridge (enjoying wonderful views) to Corrie Dubh (a Corrie is a glacially-carved valley up in the hills) and headed back into Glen Da Ghob (Glen is the Scottish word for valley), into the wind so the deer wouldn’t “wind” (smell) them. Here they found a group of 30 or more stags, in velvet with their antlers growing. Crawling on hands and knees they carefully got closer to where they were grazing they took the following photos, all taken on an iphone!
The stags grazed at a distance of about 40 yards or so, unaware that they were being watched, despite the photographers sitting up. Still the stags got closer: their heads down were down as they were grazing, so didn’t see their audience, and the wind direction meant they couldn’t smell them either. Two stags got so close that the guests did not need their binoculars any more.To be able to get to such close proximity to this wild species is very rare. One of the stags came round to their right and spotted them, and then another too, at the extraordinary distance of only about 25 yards.
Inevitably the two stags turned and started to run away, and the rest of the herd followed.The guests were shaking with excitement at their encounter on the hill, calmed down enough to eat their piece (sandwiches) then headed back down the hill to the lodge to recount their adventure by the fire with a glass of whisky.
So how does this compare to traditional Scottish deer stalking with a rifle?
Since wolves were eliminated from Scotland, stalking with a rifle has been a necessity and remains so: South Chesthill Estate adheres to their responsibilities and must continue to do so for the health of the deer population and the environment more generally. Too many deer would result in over-grazing, degradation of the heather, grass and other plants on the hill, erosion, and a reduction in the condition of the deer. More deer would inevitably die in the hard cold winters when snow covers the ground as they wouldn’t have the fat reserves to see them through.
Deer stalking and photography stalking are both activities that combine the physical stamina with field craft, using the ground for cover, and judging the wind conditions. The skill in taking the “shot” with a camera or a rifle can be compared and debated. With a camera, you get to keep the result forever. With the rifle, accuracy is vital for a clean kill and South Chesthill Estate and many other estates ask every guest to take a shot on the range before setting out to check they are up to the challenge. Nevertheless, the stakes are higher so the adrenaline will likely be even greater than with a camera.
Other considerations include contributing food for someone’s table (if not your own), you have the potential for a trophy for your wall, and you know you are performing a necessary environmental and animal welfare task. But shooting to kill of course isn’t for everyone and for many, the photography option might be the best of both worlds as you do enjoy all the same physical challenge and the same views and fresh air. The other consideration is the time of year: if you are outside the stag and hind stalking season, photography stalking is your only option.
If you do decide to try your hand at photography stalking, whether you are in Scotland, England, Wales or Ireland you are strongly advised to get permission from the landowner before setting out. Getting close to deer can be dangerous, particularly during the stalking season and the landowner must be aware of your presence. They will ask you to postpone your visit during the stalking season primarily for your own safety, but also because your presence will likely interfere with the vital task they are performing.
Where do I sign up?
Traditional deer stalking, photography stalking and nature tours are available on South Chesthill Estate. You can partake in the annual stag or hind cull by renting one of the lodges in the season which for South Chesthill Estate runs from 1st September to 15th February. Photography stalking is available all year round except for the stag season which on South Chesthill runs from 1st September to 20th October. A full day costs £190 (inc VAT) including Hamish’s time and land rover / argo cat which can accommodate up to five people, or less for a half day. There is no charge for tenants at Chesthill House. Subject to availability.
For more information, please contact us.