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In the Shadow of Cairngorm
XXVIII. Grouse and Deer


It is only within the last sixty years that the letting of shootings has become common. Before then they were preserved, but not let. Shooting was one of the "sylvan amusements" at Charlieshope—("Guy Mannering.") Mrs Rebecca, maid to Mrs Margaret Bertram, says —"They were very decent folk the Dinmonts. My Lady liked the Charlieshope hams, and the cheeses, and the muir-fowl that they were aye sending." The Earl of Glenallan, in "The Antiquary," is represented as saying of Captain Macintyre, "he shall have full permission to sport over my grounds." In "St Ronan’s Well" there are references to the same state of things. "We found the place much to our mind; the landlady (Mrs Dodds) had interest with some old fellow, agent of a non-residing nobleman, who gave us permission to sport over his moors." One of the earliest notices of the more strict preservation of game in the north may be found in an advertisement in the Aberdeen Journal in 1766. It is as follows:—"The Right Honble. the Earl of Fife intends strictly to preserve his game on his lands in the Counties of Aberdeen, Banff, and Moray, and hopes that no person or persons will hunt thereon, with gun, dog, or net, without his Lordship’s leave, otherwise they will be prosecuted in terms of law." Another interesting advertisement, referring to game, appeared in the Journal thirty years later:—

"At a meeting of the Northern Shooting Club, held at Aberdeen, the 22d of December, 1796, Present Dr George Skene of Berryhill; Major-General Hay of Rannes; Sir Archibald Grant of Monymusk; J. D. Horn Elphinstori of Horn [14 other names]—Dr Skene in the chair—The Meeting being informed that great quantities of hares, partridges, and other game had been killed during the present season, especially in the vicinity of Aberdeen, and being resolved to exert themselves for the preservation of the game, which the present severity of the season requires them more particularly to attend to-—resolved to recal, and they do hereby recal all shooting licences granted by any of them preceding this date; and in order to the more effectual detection of poachers and others infringing the Game Laws, the Northern Shooting Club hereby offer a reward of Three Guineas, over and above the statutory penalties, to be paid to any person or persons informing against poachers or others destroying or killing game without leave, and particularly during the present inclemency of the season; to be paid by Dr Dauney, advocate in Aberdeen, upon conviction of the offenders. George SKENE, Chairman."

Captain Dunbar, in documents relating to the province of Moray, states that Sir Archibald Dunbar (born 1772), when a young man, used to go yearly to the Bridge of Dulsie and shoot all round without let or hindrance. But more liberty would have been allowed him, as a landed proprietor, and among friends, than would have been permitted to others. This seems evident from a letter from the Earl of Fife to Sir Archibald, printed by Capt. Dunbar, in which his lordship says—"I beg leave to assure you that I hope you will use no ceremony to hunt, shoot, or sport on any grounds of mine." Things were much in the same way in Strathspey: Shootings were preserved, but not let, and permission to shoot was granted, under certain conditions, by the proprietor. The following was the form used on the Grant Estates, in Strathspey—-" Colonel Grant presents his compliments to —, and allows him permission to shoot this season, in terms of the prefixed regulations, to which he is requested to pay particular attention. Cullen House, the 14th August, 1832." The form is printed, and the blanks as to name and date are filled up in the handwriting of the late Colonel Grant of Grant, who was then acting as curator for his brother, Lewis Alexander, Earl of Seafield. The regulations are as follows :—

"COLONEL GRANT, in order to preserve the GAME on the Seafield Estate, has found it proper to establish the following Regulations, which he expects that every Gentleman obtaining leave to shoot or course will strictly observe,

"1. No shooting or coursing is permitted on any part of the Grounds or Moors of the Estate situated within six miles of Cullen House, Castle Grant, or in the vicinity of Lochindorb.

"2. The Black Game, Pheasants, Red Deer and Roes are not to be killed, at any season, or on any part of the Estate, without special instructions.

"3. It is expected that no Gentleman who has leave to sport, will exceed the bounds of moderation in the number or quantity of Game he may kill.

"4. No Permission to shoot or course is to extend beyond one season.

"5. It is to be always distinctly understood that a Permission to sport is to be used only by the individual named therein and not by any other person (whether friend or Gamekeeper, &c.), for him."

In Abernethy there were four gentlemen who obtained the privilege of shooting—Captain Gordon, Revack; Captain Macdonald, Coulnakyle; Captain Grant, Birchfield; and Mr Forsyth, The Dell, and during the season they spent many a happy day on the moors. Captain Grant, Congash, was then factor for Strathspey. He was a rigid Tory, and was very slow to recognise the need of changes and improvements. When there began to be talk of the letting of moors, he would not at first hear of such a thing, and afterwards, when a certain Abernethy gentleman said to him that he could get a tenant for him, he said lightly, "You may have as long a lease as you like of Abernethy moors for £50 a year." Happily for the proprietor, the offer was not accepted. In a few years things completely changed. Moors were taken readily, and rents went up by leaps and bounds. The moor which was let to Mr Boyd in 1835 for £80, now (including the Deer Forest) brings in twenty times as much! Coulnakyle, the old manor-house, was the first shooting lodge, and was occupied by various tenants. It was about 1840 that the rage for big bags began. Mr Richard Winsloe was then tenant of the Abernethy moors. He was a keen and successful sportsman. When he chose, he could easily make, by steady shooting, 100 brace, on the Twelfth, to his own gun, but he was never ambitious to beat the record, or of having his doings trumpeted in the newspapers. It will be observed that in the permission to shoot on the Grant estates, red deer and roe are excluded, and that they were not to be killed "without special instructions." This difference, as marking the higher character of the sport, seems to have always existed. Deer were very strictly preserved, and the penalty for poaching was severe. Glenmore was erected into a Royal Forest in 1685. In 1728, James Stewart was Keeper of the Forest, and the accompanying letter addressed to him by the Duke of Gordon, shows both the courtesy of the Duke and the strictness of the regulations as to game.

The Deer Forest of Abernethy was established in 1869. It includes about 26,000 acres, one-fourth of which is wood, affording fine shelter in winter. The number of stags killed in the season is from 60 to 70, averaging 14. stone each, weighed with heart and liver included. Royals are not infrequent, and in 1892 a fine 14-pointer—18 stone—was killed. The Forest of Glenmore was formed in 1859. It extends to some 15,000 acres, including the west face and corries of Cairngorm. The yield of stags is from 50 to 60.

The gain to landowners by the letting of shootings has been great. Ratepayers also have profited, from the large proportion of rates paid by the shooting tenants. Whether there have been equal advantages morally and socially, is another question, as to which opinions differ. In thought of the desolation wrought in our glens, many will sympathise with the poet, when he sings—

"The auld hoose is bare noo, a cauld hoose to me,
The hearth is nae mair noo the centre o’ glee,
Nae mair for the bairnies the bield it has been:
Och, hey! for bonny Kinreen.

"The auld folk, the young folk, the wee anes an’ a’,
A hunder years’ hame birds are harried awa—
Are harried an hameless whatever winds blaw:
Och, hey! Kinreen o’ the Dee."

(Idylls and Lyrics by William Forsyth.)


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