The mighty stags of the English lowlands

Shooting Times & Country|July 01, 2020

The mighty stags of the English lowlands
Size isn’t everything but if you’re after a big red stag this season the Highlands aren’t the place to go looking says Patrick Laurie
Patrick Laurie

Lockdown has been a time for daydreaming. Trapped indoors for days on end and confined to barracks during a beautiful spring, thoughts have now begun to return towards sporting ambitions.

A friend in Yorkshire has nurtured a lifelong ambition to cast a fly into the Hampshire chalk streams. He has been postponing the trip for a decade, but the compression of lockdown has been released in a sudden surge of decisive action. He has vowed that 2020 will be the year it comes together. Likewise, a colleague in Wales is emerging from the crisis with a burning ambition to bag his first grouse.

Having been denied all access to field sports, we’re emerging from coronavirus with an ambitious ‘seize the day’ attitude.

It’s still unclear what impact the virus will have on the various sporting seasons ahead. Preparations for driven game seem to be patchy, but many estates and shoots are pushing ahead in the hope that all will be well.

When it comes to deer stalking, most Scottish estates are looking at the season ahead with some uncertainty. The stag season will open on 1 July, but it remains to be seen how this will work out in practical terms if guests are unable to travel north or find accommodation when they get there.

Perhaps there will be a slow start which builds to a crescendo later as lockdown conditions continue to ease. But if daydreaming is a theme of 2020, it’s worth an imaginary romp across the hills to seek out the biggest and best stags of the year.

Red deer are synonymous with Scotland. Anybody who has bought a tin of shortbread will make an immediate connection to antlers in the land of tartan and whisky, but Scotland is generally a poor and marginal place for red deer. Look in more heavily forested parts of Europe and you’ll find stags that make our finest heads look twiggy and slim.

We think of stags and imagine the vast, mountain vistas of Wester Ross or Highland Perthshire, but this is a relatively thin habitat for deer, which do best in forests and the rich, comfortable terrain of the lowlands.

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July 01, 2020