The stalking season for red deer stags ended on October 20th, but while the "Monarchs of the Glens" once again grazed safely, the rifles began aiming at their hinds the following day. The hind stalking season, which is more of a cull than a "sporting" activity like stag stalking, runs until February 1st when the guns will fall silent until the stag stalking season begins again on July 1st.

With all that shooting you would have thought the Scottish red deer population would be facing extinction. Not a bit of it. Red deer have increased three fold in the last 50 years and are now thought to total around 400,000. When you add the populations of roe deer (c.350,000), sika (c.25,000) and fallow (c.8,000), there are currently over 750,000 deer roaming Scotland's hills, glens and woodlands.

The number of deer in Scotland is now so out of balance with their natural environment in certain areas that they are having a negative effect through overgrazing and trampling, as well as damaging trees from browsing and bark stripping.

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From a farmer's perspective they compete with sheep for grazing as well as eating feed blocks left out on the hill to supplement the diet of pregnant ewes in late winter. They also invade in-bye fields to graze crops and grass.

One of the reasons that the number of red deer being culled over the last ten years has decreased is that they are a valuable capital asset to many landowners. Privately owned sporting estates make up the majority of upland land-use and are traditionally valued in part by their annual sporting take of red deer - with £40-50,000 added to the value of an estate by estate agents for each "sporting" stag shot. This encourages estates to maintain high deer populations to boost the capital value of their land.

When you factor in the income from wealthy sportsmen who pay handsomely for good stalking you can see why many estates have reduced, or even eliminated sheep from their hills in favour of increasing their red deer numbers.

Most hill sheep enterprises are only marginally profitable at best, so many sporting estates took advantage of the old Single Farm Payment regime, that paid the same amount of subsidy whether you kept sheep or not, and got rid of their flocks - leading to so-called "slipper farmers".

One of the problems with that trend has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of ticks in certain areas of Scotland as they feed on all those large, warm-blooded red deer. While deer themselves don't carry Lyme disease, the ticks that are multiplying as a result of feeding on them, transmit the disease from other animals they feed on to humans.

While deer can roam freely, sheep are hefted to their grazing. That allows them to be gathered and dipped in a solution containing pesticides, that persist in the lanoline next to their skin, which is deadly to ticks attempting to suck their blood. That way tick populations were effectively controlled. Now, in the absence of sheep and a rising deer population that can't be gathered and dipped, tick populations are on the rise.

I can't help but think it paradoxical that sporting estates are reluctant to cull deer, yet justify culling diminutive, endangered mountain hares because they also act as hosts to ticks that transmit louping ill, a viral disease which can be deadly to grouse.

Incidentally, a study by scientists from the former Macaulay Land Research Institute in Aberdeen and the University of Glasgow in 2010 found that killing hares was not an effective way of controlling louping ill.

Apart from man, deer have no natural predators. That has led to silly talk by environmentalists of releasing large carnivores like wolves or lynx into the wild. The reality is that deer numbers can be effectively managed by man and that should begin now with a sustained and ruthless cull of hinds.

Make no mistake, culling red deer is also a welfare issue. The population is now at the point where there is a real prospect of large numbers of casualties in a harsh winter from malnutrition.

The problem with stalking/culling hinds is that there aren't too many sportsman willing to pay for it, and the task falls on estate staff.

Culling hinds can be hard work that is often undertaken with the risk of being caught in inclement winter weather on high hills. It may be physically demanding, time-consuming work that can only be undertaken by skilled marksmen, but it is a job that has to be done.