An investigation has been launched into a video showing a stag being shot and killed in a Highland loch.
The video has been condemned by the Argyll and Bute MSP and Cabinet Secretary, Michael Russell, as “repulsive”. The stag, which struggled in the water for around 90 seconds before sinking, suffered a “horrific end”, he said.
The investigation is being carried out by the British Deer Society, which oversees humane deer control. The footage “appears to show poor practice” that was “unrepresentative” of the usual high standards, it said.
The video, which is being published by The Ferret, shows a herd of deer running into a sea loch watched by a stalking party. A man aiming a gun is encouraged to “whack” the stag, which is then shot once in the water.
There is discussion about whether to take a second shot to kill the animal, but that is not done. The group can be then be heard laughing and congratulating the shooter.
One directory user said: “Not shooting the stag again in my opinion was letting it suffer unnecessarily as it was still swimming two minutes later.”
Another contributor called the video “disgusting – and not sporting in my opinion”, arguing that “the shooter ought to be ashamed of himself”.
Another said: “So some think that shooting a moving stag neck deep in water with other beasts around it is ok? Not to mention houses potentially in the line of fire. FFS lads come away!!”
The controversy led to the British Deer Society (BDS) releasing a statement on 30 October condemning what had happened. “BDS are shocked and deeply concerned by the footage,” said a post on its Facebook page.
“BDS continues to investigate the video and in no way condones this type of bad practice – which does not reflect in any way professional standards of deer management.”
The Ferret has been told that the stag was shot by a client of West Highland Hunting on the northwest coast. The hunting firm’s website, which advertises “trophy” stags to clients, went offline following the release of the footage, but has since been reinstated.
When contacted for comment the firm’s sporting manager, Niall Rowantree, said. “The information you have is factually incorrect and the British Deer Society have removed their post.”
The Ferret asked Rowantree to specify what was incorrect, but he did not respond. After we published this story, the stalker who took the shot, Fraser Macdonald, was interviewed by the online Fieldsports Channel.
Macdonald described some of the criticism from fellow stalkers as “disgusting”, and accused them of “never knowing the full story”. He said that he had shot the stag before the film was taken but had failed to kill it.
His second shot, shown in the footage, “proved to be an effective and lethal shot”, he argued. “It was safe and the wounded stag is dead.”
BDS’s original post has disappeared from its Facebook page, but on 3 November the society confirmed to The Ferret that it was still investigating the incident.
“The video concerned appears to show poor practice that we would deem to be unrepresentative of the high standards of humane management and professionalism generally shown within the deer sector,” said a BDS spokesperson.
“However, it would not be right to offer judgement based on a single video clip. The full circumstances which underpinned the decisions made at the time must be examined so that we can reach a complete understanding of the events.”
BDS added: “We are currently looking into the matter further to ascertain the full facts, and so it would be inappropriate to offer further comment at this time.”
After viewing the footage, Michael Russell MSP condemned the shooting. “The content, language and attitude in this video are all repulsive,” he said.
“I know many stalkers and shooters and I am sure they will all be horrified. There is a huge contrast between the amazing opening shots of a herd of deer swimming across a loch and the horrific end as the wounded stag, its blood colouring the water, attempts to reach land until it collapses.”
Russell continued: “Meanwhile the stalker is congratulating the shooter, and using words like ‘whacked’ to describe what has happened to the struggling animal.
“I am not a vegetarian and I accept the necessity of killing for food. But it must be as humane as possible and even if it is in circumstances described as sporting, those high standards must still and always apply.”
The Scottish animal campaigns charity, OneKind, said it was “shocking to see a stag shot in the sea for entertainment.” The group’s campaigner, Eve Massie, found it “absolutely horrifying to hear the group of people laughing as the animal clearly fights for his life and struggles to escape the water as he dies a long and painful death.”
She said: “What is worse is the sheer glorification and congratulatory atmosphere of the shooters on the video. The disturbing phrases used by the men to encourage the client to take his shot show a complete lack of respect for the animal.”
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association and the Association of Deer Management Groups, which brings together landowners, issued a joint statement. “While it would not be appropriate to comment specifically on the circumstances surrounding this video, we would remind all deer management stakeholders of the central importance of adhering to best practice guidance,” they said.
“There may be circumstances under which dispatching an injured animal becomes the principal consideration. However, we strongly advise all stakeholders to adhere to the best practice guidance to ensure public safety and deer welfare standards are uncompromised.”
This story was amended at 15.20 on 9 November 2020 to say that the shooting took place on the northwest coast of Scotland, rather than specifying the Ardnamurchan peninsula. It was updated at 12.25 on 12 November 2020 to include an interview by Fieldsports Channel with the stalker, Fraser Macdonald.