Game shooting in the Kingdom of Fife
Fife sits on the eastern edge of Scotland, situated between the Firth of Tay in the north and Firth of Forth in the south. The county expands over 512 square miles with good road links and two major airports at Edinburgh and Glasgow around an hour’s drive away. Although Fife is recognised worldwide for being the home of golf, its gentle rolling hills, mature woodland and wide valleys overlooked by the Lomond Hills make the landscape a superb destination for many shooters and stalkers.
In the 15th century, Fife was favoured by monarchs for its rich hunting ground and many of its shooting estates have been established since the 1850s. The east coast of Scotland is widely recognised for its roe deer stalking and Fife in particular produces many trophy heads. A number of factors contribute to this, specifically an underlying band of limestone, which produces trace elements critical for strong bone growth. The weather is relatively mild in comparison to the more northern parts of Scotland and drier than the western side. There are large areas of farmland where many root vegetables are grown, and numerous fruit farms producing fruit throughout the summer months.
Roe deer stalking is so popular in Fife one stalker is booked up 12 months in advance.
Ron Smith, chairman of the central Scotland branch of the British Deer Society (BDS) said: “Combine all these factors and you have an ideal habitat for the roe deer. They have access to a variety of food, available all year round, and they have plenty of woodland cover. These all make for good body conditions.”
Roe deer stalker Mark Robson has permission to shoot over many thousands of acres in Fife and is so busy his stalking diary is booked 12 months in advance.
He said: “Some of this area is top-class stalking ground with a large population of roe deer, of which some are medal class beasts. Some landowners expect me to control the roe numbers but the vast majority like to see the roe about and know they will benefit from my management, therefore the roe they see are better quality thanks to my intervention.
“My clients enjoy a high success rate, better than one buck per two outings, plus they get a good percentage of medal class bucks. I love Fife’s rolling countryside, which makes it perfect for stalking and there are many nice vantage points where you can view large areas of the county and out across the North Sea.”
Birkhill has been entertaining guns for almost 200 years.
Birkhill Castle in north Fife had rough shoots taking place in 1830s before making them more formalised around 1840. An entry made in one of Birkhill’s game books in 1929 reads: ‘Haig managed the beats extremely well – beautiful high birds at every drive.’
The first roe deer was seen on the estate in 1936 and from the 1950s stalking has taken place on a regular basis. Shooting parties and deer stalkers can stay in the historic Birkhill Castle, built in 1780, the home of Earl and Countess of Dundee. Lord Dundee is the Hereditary Royal Standard Bearer for Scotland; his ancestors carried the Scottish Banner for William Wallace and Robert the Bruce.
A taste of Fife with shotgun, fork and rifle
Driven pheasant shoots take place over 4, 000 acres at Birkhill and the neighbouring Kilmany estate, offering shooters back-to-back days with a wide and varied landscape to shoot over, including the signature drive from the banks of the Tay Estuary. The estate has a number of south facing vantage points to shoot from.
Birkhill’s gamekeeper, shoot host and deer stalker, George Elliott said: “Fife is very accessible; you can step off a plane and be in any part of Fife within an hour’s drive. We have a lot of history here at Birkhill; shooters and stalkers enjoy fine sporting days over interesting landscapes and mature woodland that have been established and maintained for many decades. Whether you are stalking or shooting with us you will experience a real taste of the Fife landscape and fine views from the estate to the Tay Estuary, across to Perthshire and up to the Angus Glens.”
Shooting parties and stalkers can book into Birkhill castle or one of the local hotels. The Lomond Hills Hotel in the village of Freuchie is 20 minutes from Birkhill and offers a warm welcome to shooting parties and stalkers. The hotel, an 18th century converted coaching inn, is situated below the Lomond Hills and is well placed to accommodate shooting parties and stalkers.
Shooting on the banks of the Tay Estuary.
Manager Helen Christie said: “If our guests have an early start we will make sure there is a full Scottish breakfast with all the trimmings waiting for them on their return from stalking or shooting. We have dog kennels, a shed to hang deer, a secure gunroom and plenty space for all the wet clothing and muddy boots. We look after our hunting guests, many come back year after year so it’s like seeing old friends.”
Fife’s roe deer population is thriving and deer stalkers are managing the deer professionally to increase the good quality heads. More visitors are coming to Fife boosting the rural economy and enjoying the rewards of stalking and the opportunity to shoot a trophy buck. The roe deer not only support a number of stalking businesses in Fife but their venison is a very popular local food source too.
“Our local game dishes are always popular on our menus especially with our shooting and stalking customers,” said Amanda Graham of Ostlers Close Restaurant in Cupar.
The husband and wife team opened their restaurant more than 30 years ago and pride themselves on using local ingredients. They use roe venison in their dishes and during the shooting season the Gamekeeper’s Bag is a popular dish – on one given night it might consist of pigeon, venison, partridge and wild duck with roasted vegetables and a game reduction.
Amanda said: “Roast saddle of roe venison served with braised red cabbage, potato cake, local wild mushrooms, Stornaway black pudding and roasted seasonal vegetables in a game sauce is by far the most popular game dish on our menu. It’s bursting with flavours and I like to compliment the venison and serve it with my homemade plum jelly.”
Roast venison can be found on countless menus in restaurants across Fife.
Amanda’s husband Jimmy said: “Having a number of shooting estates on the doorstep allows us to provide our customers with top quality local game dishes, you can’t beat fresh and local.”
Teasses in East Fife, owned by Sir Fraser Morrison, offers driven pheasant, partridge and duck over 1,000 acres of gentle, rolling countryside. I asked Sir Fraser what inspired him to create the Teasses we see today and he said: “It had been my passion in the early 1990s to find a country home within an hour of Edinburgh where I could establish a shoot. After many years of searching we found Teasses, which had been laid out as a shooting estate in the 1930s. It needed to be re-established and the challenges were many. First of all, the basic infrastructure had to be rebuilt – fencing, roads and drainage. Vermin had to be brought under control and the drives planned. We initially experimented with game crops and where drives worked we planted woods and hedgerows. This all started in 1996 and some 16 years later the drives and woods are well established. Fine tuning and improvement is an ongoing process and is as enjoyable now as it was when we started.
“We currently offer up to 45 days shooting between October and February with shoots held two to three days per week. Teasses shooting is based on 100 per cent repeat business, with people enjoying the shoot so much that they return year after year.”
Wellfield currently offers 12 days a season over its 1,000 acres.
Wellfield, near the Lomond Hills, is run and hosted by Alan Stewart, who won a gold medal shooting clays in the Commonwealth Games in 1979. Alan’s father, a builder, bought the estate in 1930s for £12,000 from the previous owners who sold up after a fire gutted the main house.
He used to rear his own pheasants under chickens and shoot around 300 birds a year, and he ran the shoot up until he died in 1969. Alan subsequently followed in his father’s footsteps and now hosts 12 shoot days a year over 1,000 acres.
Wellfield’s Alan Stewart (third from left) has been welcoming parties for a number of years and is known for his legendary hospitalty on shoot day.
Alan said: “We have our top beat with nine drives and our home beat with seven so we can alternate which beat we shoot on. Our top beat has great views across to the Lomond Hills and over to Perthshire. We like to do four drives in the morning and one after lunch, a typical day for us is 100 to 120 birds of mainly pheasant with some duck and partridge.”
Alan’s hospitality is legendary: at lunchtime everyone eagerly returns to Wellfield house at 12.30pm for a pre-lunch drink in the billiard room from Alan’s collection of gin and whisky before sitting down in the dining room to scotch broth, mince and tatties, finishing off with cheese, port and coffee before heading back out for the afternoon’s drive.
Fine tipples and kit
Luvians Bottle Shop in Cupar is a favourite haunt of stalkers and shooters. The impressive ‘Great Wall of Luvians’ contains more than 800 malt whiskies, including some of the very rarest, such as a bottle of the world’s oldest single malt whisky: the 70-year-old Mortlach, just 20cl in a hand-blown bottle, will set you back about £4,000.
The 70-year-old Mortlach.
Shop manager Stuart Easton said: “I think Luvians is the Aladdin’s cave of drink because of the big range we have here. We are often recommended after a shoot or a stalk because we see lots of hunters and shooting parties. We recently had a group of Frenchmen in the shop, they visit Fife each year to shoot and always call in to buy whisky. I ask Stuart for his recommendations for a wine to enjoy with pheasant and venison, he said:
“Beaune Clos des Ursules 2002 Louis Jadot has fragrant aromas of raspberry, stoned cherry, hibiscus and cured meat. This would be ideal with a pheasant dish. It is a total charmer on the palate with superb dense fruit, exceptional length along with wonderful balance. A wine I’d recommend to enjoy with venison would be Chateau Talbot 2004. This needs a bit of time to open its wings so decanting would be good. It is very attractive and has an inviting nose, a dense mouthful with dark black fruits, leather and spice. Beefy, savoury and full of charm if you have a little patience.”
Whisky connoisseurs are drawn to Luvians for its 800-strong selection of malts.
If you are visiting Fife and wish to brush up on your shooting skills you can book into Cluny Clays, open seven days a week with over 30 clay pigeon traps set up in a sporting target layout which includes a 70ft tower. Coaching lessons can also be booked and shooting accessories purchased from the shop.
Outdoor Game & Tackle has a wide selection of guns, accessories and clothing on sale from their shop at Mitchelston Industrial Estate in Kirkcaldy. Hoggs of Fife have been making country clothing and footwear since 1888 and their Field Pro brand is a range of hunting and shooting wear available from their retail shop in Strathmiglo.
For more information about the shoots, hotels, shops and restaurants featured in this article on the Kingdom of Fife visit:
Outdoor Game & Tackle (01592 651800)
For more features click here