Deer Stalking Seasons:
Stags:1st July - 20th October
Hinds: 21st October - 15th February
Please watch this short film with the sound on and the screen expanded to get a unique insight into deer stalking on Jura. With thanks to Euan Myles.
The taking of deer for food, or hunting as it is generally referred to, will have been happening on Jura since both man and deer arrived.
Our first known reference to deer hunting is made by Archdeacon Donald Munro when he visited the island sometime in the early to middle 1500’s when he mentions deer being driven into stockades to be slaughtered. This perhaps refers to the use of deer runs (Eileirig) and deer dykes (Garradh Fhiada), which lead to deer "butts" (Punnd Fiadhachaidh). These catchment areas were set on regular deer paths upon which deer would be chased and killed as they passed the "butts" in which people would be hiding. In reality these structures, the remnants of which are still visible on Jura, possibly predate modern history and were formed when the arrow and the spear were the method of gaining food.
It is said that in the 1600’s the Lords of the Isles used Jura as their special hunting grounds. There are no specifics to the methods used so we are unclear if they were still using the deer drives, or hunting with deer hounds on the open hill or even using early muskets as a precursor to modern day deer stalking. The Gaelic language has many meanings for the word stalking (Stalcaireachd) with many references to creeping, crawling, gazing, staring and prowling. It is these definitions which perhaps brought into use the statement "deer stalking" (Stalcaireachd Feidh) which is a very uniquely British expression for the stealthy (as opposed to hunting) pursuit of deer with the intention of killing for meat, control of numbers or sport. Deer stalking is still the main term used to describe the management of the Jura wild deer herd as a natural food resource.
In order to maintain a stable population of deer and to avoid ecological damage by excess grazing, a cull is required each year. However, this is not random and a deer stalker will have carried out a population count/census to determine the age and sex profile of those to be culled. During the relevant legal season, barren, genetically odd or very old animals are taken. After that, other animals are selected resulting in a balanced pyramid profile with a few healthy older animals of each sex at the top and increasing numbers of each sex down to the yearlings at the bottom.
As part of the cull some estates will offer the opportunity to shoot animals selected as suitable by the resident stalker to people prepared to pay for the privilege. This income, in additional to the income received for the provision of the visitor's accommodation, helps with the management of the deer population as a whole. If population reduction is required more females will be culled. If a population increase is required only a selected few will be culled.
The estates on Jura use professional deer stalkers who have the humane dispatch of the deer at the forefront of their minds (right behind safe shooting practice), but there are many scenarios which prevent a shot from being taken. These include no safe backstop; no clear shot; the chosen animal not standing still for long enough; there are other deer behind the chosen deer; or no suitable animals are found. This means that not every stalk results in a deer being killed, even if someone has paid to take the shot, and this can result in a "walk with a rifle". This in itself can be rewarding as lots can be learnt from the professional deer stalker who will have a wealth of local knowledge. Good healthy animals are left to spawn future generations - that is how the herd is improved over time.
Stalks can also be disturbed by walkers unaware of their proximity to the stalking party. We would politely ask during the season that visitors to the island are respectful of this vital land management activity and keep to designated paths wherever possible. As a courtesy, please contact the relevant estates in advance so that routes are planned which minimise the chance of disturbance in line with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. The Heading for the Scottish Hills website is also a useful source of information.
Until the mid 1900’s the main method of taking the shot deer off the hill was a horse and sledge. This was very unique to Jura as mainland deer forests removed the carcass by the use of a deer saddle on the back of a pony. It is still a mystery why Jura estates used the sledge method. Some estates still use boats to access the West coast of the island, but today extraction is predominantly by ATV (all-terrain vehicle) which makes the process faster and is more suited to the larger number of animals now culled from the herd.