Growing up, I was always troubled by the world of hunting. I was predominantly exposed to it through my father, who was a member of very large local duck and pheasant shoots. Every Saturday afternoon I would hear how hundreds of birds, having been bred specifically for this day, were shot from the sky in the name of sport. This horrified me from a young age, and I refused to join my siblings in beating, even when they were desperate for help. The thought of animals being mindlessly slaughtered as a form of entertainment tainted my view of hunting, and strengthened my belief that this would never be something I was a part of.
From the age of 15, the highlight of my year became my summer trip to the highlands of Scotland with the Gearing's. Here we would fish, rock climb, hike and swim in the freezing waters. It was and still is the most magical holiday with so much happiness and the most beautiful scenery. It was also here that I learned about deer stalking and the world of sustainable hunting. I remember the first time that Rob’s oldest daughter Jenna brought a roe buck back to the house, having gralloched it out on the moors. The deer was brought back in the truck, hung up outside the house and skinned. I watched with a mix of admiration and abhorrence as Jenna did this with such confidence and calm. Once this was done, the buck was butchered and not a single part went to waste - we had a huge barbecue where we enjoyed a multitude of different cuts, and packed the rest in the freezer to take home. The bones went to the dogs and not a piece was left. This taught me how hunting should be done - take what you need, and do not waste any any part of the animal. For me, this shows the utmost respect for the life you have taken.
In August 2021, having joined the Spartan team in April, I finally felt ready to bring a deer home. Being a meat eater, I had recently become troubled with the fact that I would happily buy meat from the supermarket or even a fast food restaurant, but didn't want to kill. These two things cannot be separated - we are far too disconnected from what our meat really is - a dead animal. I ardently believe now that if you are happy to eat meat, you should be willing to kill an animal too.
The next morning after arriving, we headed off to do some target practice. Rob set up an entirely new angle for us - a steep downhill shot that I had never done before. I was also handed the SigSauer Cross rifle - a bit of a beast for a newbie like me, but an incredible rifle with absolute precision. All of the shots went well and I felt confident. We ventured out as the sun was beginning to lower. We saw a few bucks here and there, and eventually came to a stop in our search. We unloaded the car and walked through the heather as we were basked us in golden light.
We saw a couple of groups of deer with a couple of bucks in both, and decided to follow one of the herds. As we neared within a few hundred metres, we crawled along the ground across the purple hues and found ourselves looking down at a buck from a steep hill, the exact same angle as I had taken before. Rob quickly and quietly assembled the Spartan tripod, while I clicked the rifle into place. The deer were dancing behind some trees, occasionally popping out but not long enough for a shot. Finally, the buck emerged. I knew I only had a couple of seconds to decide if I was strong enough to do this. Lined up, Rob reassured me of my options, but as I told him I was ready, I pulled the trigger. Watching the deer fall through the scope, I gasped and tears sprung to my eyes instantly. I don’t believe in my life I have ever been so overwhelmed by such a strong mix of emotions - happiness, horror, pride and confusion were the most prominent. We walked down the steep slope and found the deer hiding in the long grass. The bullet had hit the heart and burst through the other side, killing him instantly. Davey the gamekeeper opened the buck’s mouth to assert his age, to which we saw that his teeth were ground down to almost nothing. He told me that with teeth like this, he wouldn’t have survived the winter. This aided my mental state, as I found comfort in knowing that I had stopped the deer from starving to death. Davey gralloched the deer where we found it, a sight that I had never witnessed before, and one I honestly found quite traumatising. It helped further ground me to the reality of the brutality of meat consumption.
Coming away from my first deer stalk, I believe more than ever that if you eat meat, you should be prepared to kill. It was an eye opening experience and one that will stay with me forever. And what better place to have taken my first deer than in the beautiful highlands of Scotland with the family that taught me the truth about hunting.