Stalking a majestic red stag in the Scottish Highlands and islands is the stuff of sporting dreams. Shooting Times cherry-picks some of the best locations
Stalking red stags in Scotland is a bucket-list experience for most stalkers. One of the country’s most majestic animals, the red deer is Scotland’s largest native land mammal and one of its most sought-after sporting trophies. The majority are found in the Scottish Highlands and islands, and there is a wide variety of stalking ground and accommodation options to choose from.
When it comes to choosing where to go, a lot will hang on your personal preference, budget, and level of experience. Do you want to test yourself on steep, rugged hillsides or would you prefer flatter, more sheltered terrain? Do you dream of a regal rack to mount above the fireplace, or would you be happier to take a less glamorous cull beast for the good of the herd?
Would you like to go as part of a large group and stay in a fully catered hunting lodge or a cosy self-catered cottage? Are you an experienced stalker or would you welcome more of a guiding hand?
How expensive is stalking red stags?
In terms of cost and budget, the biggest variable will be accommodation: a week in a Scottish baronial hunting lodge will naturally set you back more than a couple of nights in a concrete cottage. Most estates will have package deals for stalking trips, which are worth enquiring about. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where you lay your head at night, as you’re likely to be exhausted, but it helps to have a roaring fire, hot bath and comfortable space to relive the day’s exertions over a dram.
Regarding the cost of the actual animal, expect to pay between £350-£550 (plus VAT ) on average per stag. Early season stags (July to August) can be cheaper, and those late summer beasts on the high tops represent a different sporting challenge to autumn animals during the rut. Some estates will also charge additional trophy fees for beasts with particularly impressive antlers. Blank days (when no suitable shot is presented) are also chargeable for a smaller fee in some cases, so it’s always worth checking.
If you want the stalker to boil up the head so that you can take your antlers with you, there will be another additional charge, and skinning/caping for grander taxidermy mounts will be more again. And of course, don’t forget tips for the stalker himself, any gillies, pony boys/girls, cooks and housekeepers, depending on where you are staying. As always, amounts are discretionary and you should give what you think reflects the efforts made on your behalf, which can be considerable.
West Highland Hunting
Location: Ardnamurchan, Argyll
Accommodation: Luxury renovated castle, self-catered cottage or local hotel
Average price per stag:£550-£750 (plus VAT), with a limited number of top trophies available for a supplement
USP: Huge variety of terrain; heavy stags with impressive heads
Tel: 01972 500775
The red stags on offer at West Highland Hunting (WHH) are arguably some of the country’s finest, with many weighing in at 25st to 30st, with exquisite broad-beamed antlers. WHH culls around 250 to 300 stags per year. With a choice of beats covering 40,000 acres, there is something to suit all levels of fitness and experience.
Credit: Tweed Media
Borve Lodge Estate
Location: Isle of Harris & Island of Taransay
Accommodation: Luxury lodge, self-catered house or cottage
Average price per stag: £500 (plus VAT)
USP: The magic of hunting on an uninhabited island
Tel: 01859 550358
Red deer were introduced to Taransay in the early 1980s. Since then they have flourished and the population is now around 220. At just under 4,000 acres, Taransay is a truly beautiful location, with roughly eight to 10 stags shot per year. Accommodation is at the magnificent Borve Lodge, on the neighbouring Isle of Harris.
Credit: Borve Lodge Estate
Accommodation: Fully catered house or self-catering cottage
Average price per stag: £540 (plus VAT)
USP: Lochside location, with other water-based activities available
Tel: 01967 411242
Boasting 14,000 acres of stunning Scottish scenery, Kingairloch sits on and above the shores of Loch Linnhe. Highly knowledgeable guides are happy to assist guests of all ages and experience. With a herd of roughly 500 red hinds and 200 stags, Kingairloch takes around 35 stags per year. There is a lochside restaurant on the estate, serving venison and seafood.
Credit: Kingairloch estate
South Uist Estate
Location: Isle of South Uist, Outer Hebrides
Accommodation: Luxury catered lodge or hotel
Average price per stag: £450 (plus VAT) with early stags available from July starting at £350 (plus VAT); additional trophy fees apply for stags with 10 points and over
USP: Chance to stalk on largest community-owned area in Scotland
Tel: 01878 700101
Covering the three islands of Benbecula, Eriskay and South Uist, the stunning estate is home to 700 red deer, of which roughly 50 to 70 are taken a year. The availability of early stags at a lower rate than their autumn counterparts makes South Uist a more affordable summer option.
BASC Isle of Arran
Location: Isle of Arran
Accommodation:Self-catered cottage, hotel or B&B
Average price per stag: £410 for eight outings
USP: Practical training and experience
Tel: 01244 573019
The BASC Deer Management Scheme is open to all BASC members who hold DSC1, are at least registered for DSC2 and own a suitable stalking rifle. The scheme allows members to stalk red deer unaccompanied and is conducted on the southern half of the Isle of Arran and is a combination of open hill and forest terrain. While it is unaccompanied, there will be a co-ordinator to supervise the briefing, deployment of stalkers and culling operations.
Credit: Paul Quagliana / Shooting Times
South Ayrshire Stalking
Accommodation: Country house accommodation available on a self-catered or B&B basis. Evening meals can be arranged
Average price of stag: £500 (plus VAT) with a limited number of trophies available at a higher price
USP: Educational training courses ranging from complete novice to experienced stalker
Tel: 01465 871393
South Ayrshire Stalking offers a breathtakingly beautiful lowland setting and some fine red deer. The family-run business provides a full range of training courses over its 25,000 acres, from an introduction to stalking, right up to DSC2, so don’t worry if you don’t have your own rifle. Roughly 70 to 100 stags are taken a year.
Location: Pitlochry, Perthshire
Accommodation: Self-catered woodland lodge, highland lodge or caravan park
Average price per stag: £475 with early stags available from July-August at £350
USP: Use of traditional hill ponies
Tel: 01796 481355
One of Scotland’s best-known sporting locations, Atholl dates back to the 13th century and its 81,000 acres of rolling hills are home to 7,500 red deer. Stags are carried from the hill on the back of sturdy garrons. Again, early-season stags are considerably cheaper than those in September and October. Most of the estate’s stalking is let with accommodation in historic sporting lodges or woodland lodges, which are available on a self-catering basis but the estate can also organise catering and staff as required.
Achacarry sporting pursuits
Location: Achnacarry, Inverness-shire
Accommodation: Self-catering lodge, house or cottage
Average price per stag: £450-£600 (plus VAT)
USP: Plenty to do for non-stalking guests, such as wildlife tours
Alex MacDonald, founding director of Achnacarry Sporting & Country Pursuits, is the fourth generation of his family on the estate and his knowledge of the area is unrivalled. The picturesque ground covers approximately 95,000 acres and is home to a red deer herd of around 15,000, with more than 100 stags culled per year. Budget-conscious stalkers might want to consider early stags in July and August before prices rise as the rut begins in September and October.