Deer Stalking in Great Britain: What You Need to Know

When one thinks about the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Great Britain for short, as a hunting country, one tends to think of the legends: famous breeds of dogs, beautiful (if prohibitively expensive) guns, exploits of famous hunters. But there are excellent, affordable, real-world hunting opportunities on the old merry island, too – including as many as six species of deer that are legal to hunt… although the British use a different word.

There are thousands of jokes about Brits and Americans needing an interpreter to talk to each other, and hunting slang is not exception. When the “sportsmen” (Am. E.: “outdoorsmen”) in Great Britain talk about “hunting”, what they mean is dressing up in red jackets and riding horses after a pack of hounds. When the Brits go duck hunting, they call it “fowling”, and hunting upland birds such as pheasant or partridge is referred to as “shooting”. And when it comes to deer hunting, the proper word is “stalking”. 

What deer species exist in the British Isles? 

There are six species of deer that exist in the wild and can be legally hunted in the United Kingdom. Two are native: the red deer, and the roe deer, and four have been introduced at various times and circumstances: the fallow, sika, muntjac, and water deer. 

Red Deer

The red deer is known around Europe as the royal game, and in the England of old it was literally so: starting with William the Conqueror, all deer in the realm were the property of the king, and nobody could kill one except the king, or a person authorized by the king. Despite that, or rather because of that, by the early XIX century the royal stag had vanished from most of the island, remaining only in a limited area on the south-west of England – and on the highlands of Scotland. It was the red stag, along with the grouse, was one of the quarries that inspired the well-to-do Englishmen to make regular visits to the Highlands, a practice that lay the foundation of the hunting tourism industry as we know it. 

Nutrition in the highlands doesn’t exactly favor antler growth; in addition, most landowners, especially of the old aristocratic families, manage their herds according to old St. Hubertus code of ethics, which demands that a stag should not be taken unless its antlers show signs of old age. So, you shouldn’t expect your Scottish red stag trophy to be exceptionally big, but outstanding, unlike no other hunting experience among the lochs and glens is guaranteed. It should be said though, that after reforestation, changes in agriculture, and decline of rural population, the red stag reclaimed the island, and there are hunting options available everywhere across the kingdom. 

A roebuck trophy from Scotland. Image (c) Galloway Country Sports

Roe Deer

Like the red deer, the roe deer belongs to the original fauna of Great Britain, and arrived on the island as soon as the glaciers of the last Ice Age melted away and it became habitable again, but before rising sea level cut it off from the Continent. It couldn’t make it to Ireland in time, though, and therefore there’s no roe deer hunting in either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. The British roe deer suffered even more from deforestation and poaching than the red deer, and by the end of the Industrial Revolution was on the brink of extinction. However, forest planting in the late XIX century saved the day for the little deer, and as the rural population decreased in the end of the last century, the roe became more and more abundant. 

Today the roe deer inhabits most of the island of Great Britain, with the exception of the Highlands of Scotland, where the roe and the red deer seemed to have split the areas between themselves: the stag took the highlands, and the roe the lower areas. In either England, Wales, the Southern Uplands or the Lowlands of Scotland, the densities of the roe deer are as high as, and the trophies as good as in any other European country, with some areas of Great Britain boasting of a large number of medal class bucks. 

Fallow Deer

Fallow deer is the first deer species to be introduced to the British Isles by humans, but it happened so long ago the graceful deer can count as a native. Favored for its beautiful, palmated antlers, tame character, and delicious venison, fallow deer were kept in deer parks, from where they escaped, forming free-ranging populations. The first one, brought in by the Romans, was apparently hunted to extinction by Anglo-Saxons, but the Norman barons introduced the species again, and this time it held its ground.

Now the fallow deer have a wide distribution all over the British Isles, although somewhat patchy in Scotland and Northern Ireland, with most of the population concentrated in the south of England. Apart from their common dark brown, with white spots on the sides, color phase, fallow deer often come in melanistic, white, and menil (pale) color phases. Some professional hunters whose job is to protect fruit orchids from wildlife damage say fallow deer give them more problems than any other species. 

Sika Deer

The natural range of sika deer covers the Pacific coast of Asia, including Korea and Japan, where it’s called “flower deer” and believed to offer a spiritual connection to Shintoism deities. It is from Japan that the sika deer have been brought to Great Britain, and some sources claim that the whole sika deer population in Great Britain stems from just one stag and three hinds. Just as fallow deer before them and muntjac and water deer after them, the sika deer escaped from deer parks and zoos and reproduced until their numbers required to be controlled.  

Sika deer are common in Scotland and Northern Ireland, with a few herds existing in England and Wales as well. They tend to inhabit conifer forests and can do significant damage to timber plantations. With its small head and brown fur covered with white speckles, the sika deer is an elegant and graceful beast. Smaller in both body and antler size to red deer, sika deer can form hybrids with them, which is increasingly seen as threatening the genetic diversity of the native red stag. 


One of the oldest as well as smallest species of deer, the muntjac is known as “the barking deer” due to their characteristic vocalization. Bucks have small, non-branching antlers, and both sexes have canines that protrude beyond the lips. They weigh no more than 15-18 kg (33-40 lb) and their rumps are higher and bigger than their front part. Seventeen species of muntjac inhabit the Indian subcontinent and south-eastern Asia; the one found in the United Kingdom is Reeve’s muntjac, which comes from eastern China and Taiwan. 

Muntjac populations, that stem from animals that escaped or were released from deer parks, have colonized almost the whole of England and Wales. They may damage gardens and fruit orchids, but the biggest concern about them are vehicle collisions. Muntjacs are considered alien invasive species and can be hunted at any time and by any legal means. However, many property owners see value in them and manage their muntjac populations just as any other game animal. 

Chinese water deer trophy from England. Image (c) Chiltern Sporting Services
Chinese water deer trophy from England. Image (c) Chiltern Sporting Services

Chinese Water Deer 

Another exotic species that is easier to harvest in civilized Great Britain than in the wilderness in its home range, which lies in the North of China and North Korea, countries not especially welcoming foreign hunters. Chinese water deer is one of the smallest deer species, with mature bucks weighing not more than 15-18 kg. (33-40 lb). Their characteristic feature is the large canine teeth, which the bucks use to impress females and to fight for dominance. These teeth are not firmly fixed in the jaw, and the water deer bucks can move them to make them more or less conspicuous. No surprise the species is colloquially referred to as “vampire deer”. 

Chinese water deer escaped a zoo in the county of Bedfordshire in the 1930s, and, aided by further escapes and releases, grew populous in the East of England. True to the name, Chinese water deer prefer wet areas, and an overgrown river bed is its favorite habitat. They don’t do much damage to agriculture, but have a habit of snipping at top of very young trees and certain other plants, preventing their growth and in high numbers may be a serious threat to biodiversity. 

Evening stalk in England. Image (c) DeerCare

When to go Deer Stalking in Great Britain? 

The deer hunting seasons in the United Kingdom are as follows: 

Red, fallow, and sika deer stags

England, Wales, and Northern Ireland: August 1 – April 30

Scotland: July 1 – October 20

Red, fallow deer hinds

England, Wales, and Northern Ireland: November 1 – March 31

Scotland: October 21 – February 15 

Roe deer bucks

England and Wales: April 1 – October 31

Scotland: April 1 – October 20 

Roe deer does 

England and Wales: November 1 – March 31

Scotland: October 21 – March 31 

Chinese water deer

England: November 1 – March 31


No closed season. 

Hunters who are in pursuit of a red, fallow, or sika deer stag usually prefer the rut, when the stags challenge each other for dominance and control over their harems of does, and are not only less careful than usual, but also provide a chance to enjoy spectacular sights as they display their might and clash with each other for dominance. Most roebuck hunters in Europe swear by the early season: May to June, although August runs a very close second. 

Some areas may have their seasonal ups and downs, and some operators put their deer stalking activities on pause in the autumn, so as not to interfere with driven pheasant and partridge hunts. But on the whole, you can find deer stalking opportunities in Great Britain at any time of the year. 

Open spaces and treacherous weather make deer stalking in the Highlands of Scotland a challenging hunt. Image (c) River & Moor

How to hunt deer in the United Kingdom? 

Deer stalking in the United Kingdom is essentially about numbers control. The damage that these cute animals can do to forestry and agriculture should be seen to be believed, and car accidents are a concern, too. Without any natural predators, the only reasonable way to reduce deer population is by shooting. Most landowners solve this problem through a “permission” system. This is an agreement between a hunter and a landowner, with the hunter obliged to keep the population within a certain threshold, and share the value of venison, as well as other possible gains – such as from taking paying clients. 

The “stalking permission” is not easy to get, as it implies a great level of trust between the parties. In addition, the “stalker” would normally have to need specialized equipment, including a cooling chamber, and obtain a so-called Deer Stalker’s Certificate. It comes in two tiers, and includes both theoretical and practical tests proving your knowledge of the biology, species identification, and shooting ability. If you reside in Great Britain, and are serious about hunting, this is a must have thing.

The most common hunting method is – well, why do you think it’s called “deer stalking”? Hunting from high seats and using calls are much less common, and driven big-game hunts nonexistent. Sometimes the landowner would tip the stalker re: where the deer or particularly bad damage have been seen, sometimes the stalker will have plans to focus on a certain species, but as often as not it’s an opportunistic hunt: just walking through hill and dale, and seeing what turns up.

Deer stalking in the highlands of Scotland, however, is in a world of itself. As you already know, the highland deer adapted to living on open hills. There they are easy to spot, unless the proverbially changeable British weather will send a few clouds of mist your way. Approaching the deer, however, is another matter. You will have to use a valley, or put a hill between the deer and yourself, to get within the range of the animals – that means, you won’t be seeing them for much of your stalk, and as they aren’t likely to remain in the same place for every, you will need to be approaching the spot where they will be, not where you last saw them. Factor in the wind, which may change its direction literally every second, playing with clouds or fog as it does. Without knowing the lay of the land and the habits of local deer, even the most experienced hunters will appreciate tips of the “ghillie”. 

After a successful hunt, a guillie drags a deer over the moor. Image (c) Chiltern Sporting Services

One thing that often ruffles a few feathers with many first-time stalkers, especially those who have a lot of hunting experience outside Great Britain, is that the guide, or “ghillie” in Scotland (that’s right, as in “ghillie suit”) will insist on carrying your rifle, and will hand it over to you only when it’s time to shoot. This is neither cuddling nor an insult, but a long tradition that is a front for a safety measure. Deer stalking is a selective hunt, and the last thing your guide wants is to see a trigger-happy hunter gun down an animal of the wrong species or sex, or send a gut-shot deer splitting blood all over the countryside before dying on a crowded children’s playground, or send the herd with the best trophy stag fleeing in panic to the neighbor’s plot – you get the picture.

How much does it cost?

While many people think of hunting in Great Britain in terms of “if you have to ask how much it costs, you probably can’t afford it”, in reality it can be quite affordable. A day of deer stalking in England, including harvesting a doe or a smallish but representative buck, will cost you only 200 to 300 pounds. You’re likely to spend more on an average Saturday night fun in London, if you figure in dinner at a decent restaurant, going to the theater, club, or concert, taxi home and tips. Trophy fee for a good sized muntjac or roebuck, or a representative red, sika, or fallow deer, will bring the price tag to 700-800 pounds. 

Red and sika deer hunting in the Scottish Highlands is about twice as expensive; they start from about 700 pounds a day, and you should probably budget about 2,000 all said and done. But you can still get a taste of the royal sport of stalking deer in the Highlands for less than you would pay for a red stag hunt in Argentina, New Zealand, or a guided elk hunt in North America.

What do you need to do deer stalking in Great Britain? 

The most important item is the money to pay your outfitter. You will also have to take insurance against accidents and third party liability. Specialized clothing is not necessary. Camouflage, especially of a military pattern, is often frowned upon; most hunters in Britain will wear a hunting suit of a monotonous, dull, inconspicuous color, often of tweeds. For a first time stalker, any soft, quiet clothing of dull brown, khaki, or other natural color will do. As usual, a pair of good trekking boots is a must.

Tweeds, sound moderator, and shooting sticks - a complete set of a deer stalker in England.
Tweeds, sound moderator, and shooting sticks – a typical set of a deer stalker in England. Image (c) Tusk and Antler

Both Robin Hood, and King Edward II, who banned football out of concern that it distracted his subject’s attention from archery, would be greatly surprised to know that hunting with a bow is not allowed in Great Britain. Deer stalking is strictly a rifle hunt. It is legal to take your rifle to the United Kingdom, but it would require obtaining a permit. It can be done through BASC, Britain’s association of hunters and anglers, or with the help of your outfitter. It’s also possible to lend a rifle from your guide. 

The modern “stalking rifle” is generally short-barreled, and designed to be used with a sound moderator. British police encourages hunters to use sound moderators, to prevent false alarms and reduce public annoyance (read more on why sound moderators belong on hunting rifles). A traditional made-to-order rifle from John Rigby & Co or Holland & Holland can cost up to 40,000 pounds and is a thing of beauty, but a down-to-earth Savage or Tikka will kill the deer just as dead, and most stalkers use a factory or custom rifle on an affordable, but reliable action. With the typical distance of 100-150 yards, calibers like .243, 6.5×55, 7×57, and .308 are the norm. Most “stalkers” shoot standing from shooting sticks, except in the Highlands, when prone is the default position. 

The best way of introducing yourself to the sport of deer stalking is by booking a guided stalking hunt. On you can even find designated “starter’s packages”, which are specially targeted on beginners, and include a bit of bushcraft theory and some time at the range, getting a grip of rifle shooting. As far as one can judge from reviews, that is an excellent investment, and hundreds of Brits and expats got their first deer ever with the help of such packages.

Here’s a story of one beginner’s experience with stalking and

Be it in the green, lush fields of England, among the rugged beauty of Scotland’s glens and lochs, or anywhere else on the British Isles, deer stalking has something for every taste, wallet, and skill level, from total beginners to experienced hunters with dozens of trips all round the world behind their belt. Unlike some other destinations, deer stalking in Great Britain does not require a lengthy dedicated journey: you can easily fit a couple of days of stalking into your general tourism visit or a business trip. And if you reside in Great Britain and haven’t tried deer stalking yet, you definitely should. 

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