Each year we welcome guests from all over the world who come to Royal Deeside to take part in country sports. Deer stalking brings welcome tourism business to Aberdeenshire with clients staying in local holiday cottages and hotels and enjoying local food and drink during their stay as Colin explains.
By Colin McClean, Wildlife Manager
As well as wildlife tourism, June also sees a return to deer culling after a lull since March. Culling animals isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but the absence of natural predators means we need to cull deer in order to maintain our beautiful forest. An uncontrolled deer population would remove all seedlings over time and the forest would cease to grow. Deer culling is very labour intensive and its mostly done at cost. The price estates get for venison bears no relation to the price in the shops which is significantly marked up. Such is the fate of most primary producers. Butchers and retailers argue they have skills and overheads to cover and of course they do. This argument does however rankle a bit with us primary producers because it suggests that the guys who find the deer, stalk it, shoot it humanely, extract it from the forest often with considerable physical effort and then larder it ready for more advanced butchery… well it kind of implies we don’t have skills and overheads to pay for. And we do too. But that’s a bit of a tangent. The key point is that deer are culled at a cost and to defer that cost as much as possible we attract guest stalkers. In June we begin the roe buck cull and the opportunity to stalk a roe buck in a beautiful environment is attractive to many. Guests come to Scotland from all over the world to take part in deer stalking. We have regular guests from Germany, France, Denmark and, for roe bucks, we have a long standing arrangement with an American outfitter who brings in guests from all over the States. In 2017 23 couples or families made the trip from the US to stay in Ballater and hunt roe over a number of local estates. Most of these folk have their own business, some small and some vast, and they add considerably to the tourist spend in Ballater and across a wider Highland area. Ballater is a village which still bears the scars of Storm Frank so the spend is welcome.
So over three weeks of stalking I get to spend time with an interesting cross section of American society. Not the entire cross section but an interesting selection nonetheless. Over recent years I have stalked with Las Vegas casino owners, an Albuquerque police detective, a Minnesota oil pipeline manufacturer, the man who built most of Pittsburgh, an engineer with a patent of a truly eye watering value, a rancher who had just struck oil, one of the originals from Facebook and all levels of the American legal and medical professions. This morning I met “the biggest drug dealer in Nebraska” which made me a tad concerned until I found out he developed animal vaccines for a big pharma. Conversations are never dull and I end up with a wider overview of the American economy than “The Economist”.
There is no doubt that the 200 years which has passed since many European immigrants left for America has brought about a considerable divergence from the folks they left behind! We do have different world views, politics and sensibilities but warmer more friendly folk you couldn’t meet. They are unfailingly pleasant, undemanding and respectful of the country they are visiting. Deer stalking is the main draw for our guests but it often ends up a small part of the trip as they want to experience as much of Scotland as possible. All the clichés apply. The castles, the golf, the whisky. They do it all with gusto and we need such tourists.
Hunting plays a big part in American culture and it differs markedly from European hunting culture. Our Euro guests want to shoot a number of deer over a lengthy stay. Quantity is important. For Americans its all about quality and the trophy is vital. They are keen to bypass young animals and search hard for the big old timers which tend to be old for a reason. This makes for challenging stalking. Compared to marching the hills in search of stags, roe buck stalking can be quite a gentle hunting experience and this attracts an older clientele. This factor adds to the challenge as some guys are not as fit as they once were. Health and Safety is uppermost in my thoughts where older clients are concerned and route selection is crucial. One night, accompanied by a former steel magnate from Pennsylvania, we left the land rover and headed into the heather. Within 20 yards he had collapsed and I was appalled to see his leg sticking out at a horrible angle. Greenstick fracture was my sickened thought. “Give me a hand” he said, “the buckles are stuck”. Trying not to faint at the horror of it all I propped him up against a tree whereupon he unfastened the wooden leg he hadn’t told me about and re-tied it at the right angle.
But the chap who made me chuckle most was an Arizona rancher who was sitting in the land rover driving home when he muttered in a very strong drawl, “Dang it, my chiropracter”. I looked at him quizzically. “My chiropractor, he’s called Glenn…. Glenn Tanner. I need to get him over here”. I thought he was having me on but google soon revealed that the finest chiropractor in Phoenix, Arizona was one Glenn Tanner. We do need to get him over here, if only for the photo caption.