This is despite the assertion of the Scottish Gamekeepers? Association (SGA) that the practice itself is a measure of last resort for stalkers and the fact that the DCS has proposed to scrap authorisation for night-shooting.

Under Scottish legislation, for public safety reasons authorisation to shoot at night can be issued by the DCS. The crime of unauthorised shooting at night is hard to detect, but the penalty can be a fine of up to £5,000.

In a recent case in the Grampian Police area, several deer managers involved in night-shooting were charged and given a police warning but received no fine, following consideration of the circumstances.

David MacKinnon, wildlife crime officer for Grampian Police, contends that offences against deer are rife: ?Both here in Grampian and across many other parts of Scotland, numerous offences against deer are taking place. These range from shooting at night without licences, shooting without permission (therefore poaching), stalking out of season, using shotguns or the wrong calibre rifles. This activity can also involve the illegal use of snares or people coursing deer with dogs.?

Though the overwhelming majority of offences against deer are not committed by legitimate deer managers, Mr MacKinnon added: ?I urge that any person engaged in the management of deer ensures that they fully understand the legal requirements.?

The DCS?s Donald Fraser commented: ?I think many people don?t realise they should be registered to shoot deer at night. But it?s important that anyone culling deer at night knows how to shoot safely in these circumstances. The registration process allows us to ensure this.?

Last month, the DCS put forward a raft of proposed legislative changes concerning deer management in Scotland, many of which have been widely criticised by deerstalkers.

These include scrapping close seasons for male deer, reducing female deer close seasons, imposing compulsory qualifications on Scotland?s stalkers and scrapping authorisations for stalking at night.

The DCS has proposed to create a universal register of ?competent? stalkers in Scotland. Entry on that register would be conditional on proving ?competency?, but under the proposals, once a stalker is on the register, authorisation to shoot at night would not be required at all.

The SGA?s Alex Hogg told Shooting Times magazine: ?This new advice from the DCS contradicts the commission?s latest proposals for changes to deer legislation where it calls for an end to licences for night-shooting. The SGA believes that night-shooting should only be carried out by the most competent stalkers and only when all other options have been exhausted.?

Read more deer stalking news!