Deer management and access
Visiting hills where deer stalking takes place.
While exploring Scotland’s hills, you should be aware that deer stalking can take place all year round.
Follow this guide to learn why we need to manage deer and discover how you can help fight climate change, help increase biodiversity and assist rural businesses and communities by taking simple steps to avoid deer disturbance.
Please note: this page covers red deer management in the Scottish uplands. The deer stalking in forests and woods page provides information on how you can help lowland deer management.
Why manage deer?
Globally and in Scotland, nature is in decline and we face a climate emergency. Deer are an iconic species, but their high numbers in some areas and lack of natural predators mean they can harm habitats through browsing, grazing and trampling.
The sustainable management of Scotland’s deer - including a significant reduction in some places - will help to protect and restore biodiversity and tackle climate change.
Stalking (tracking deer to shoot and kill them humanely) and fencing are the main deer management methods currently used in Scotland. Stalking keeps deer numbers in balance with the environment and enables the natural regeneration of trees, shrubs and other vegetation. This, in turn, impacts positively on the amount of carbon absorbed from the atmosphere and carbon lost through areas of damaged peat. It also contributes to the welfare of the deer, as any suffering from disease, malnourishment and injury can be culled humanely. In the absence of natural predation, it falls to people to manage the growing deer populations with care, with respect and using the latest scientific knowledge and research.
The twin climate and nature crises give greater urgency to efforts to reduce deer numbers; to achieve this Scottish Government policy is that more deer must be culled to reduce their environmental impacts and to aid nature recovery.
How you can help
Activities such as hill walking increase the likelihood of us accidentally disturbing essential red deer stalking. Deer are alert to human activity from a great distance, so it is often impossible to tell when our presence has unsettled them, or moved them away from areas where stalking is taking place - making it more difficult, or impossible, to cull deer in that area on that day.
By taking simple steps to avoid deer disturbance, such as using the Heading for the Scottish Hills service to plan routes which minimise the chance of disturbing stalking and following requests to use alternative routes, you can play an important role in the nature recovery of our uplands, fighting climate change, increasing biodiversity, and helping rural businesses and communities.
When and where stalking takes place in the hills
From 2023, male deer stalking can take place all year round. Most red deer stag stalking will continue to take place between July and mid-October, with increasing activity from August to mid-October. Red deer hind (female) stalking takes place from the 21st of October to the 15th of February.
The busiest stalking periods are influenced by the natural seasonal breeding cycle and movements of red deer, as well as welfare considerations. The first three weeks of October and towards the end of the hind season (late January to mid-February) are key times of the year when deer managers are working hard to reduce deer numbers to achieve their cull targets and help to protect biodiversity.
Actions you can take
Throughout the year:
- Plan ahead - use the Heading for the Scottish Hills service (and other information sources such as Walkhighlands and some estate websites) to help you find out where stalking is happening. Fewer routes are affected by stalking on Saturdays, and stalking does not usually take place on Sundays.
- Plan and follow a route that avoids crossing land where deer management is taking place.
- Pay close attention to signage on arrival and throughout your visit, and follow reasonable advice from land managers on alternative routes.
- Be flexible - be prepared to adjust your plans to take a different route if necessary.
- If there isn’t any specific information available for your route, you can minimise the risk of disturbing stalking activity by using paths and following ridges.
- Always keep your dog in sight and under control when exploring the Scottish hills - if in doubt use a lead.
During the busier key deer stalking periods in the autumn (especially the first 3 weeks of October) and winter (late January to mid-February):
Be prepared for more stalking activity to be taking place in the hills during the working week (Monday to Friday) and that you are more likely to be asked to use alternative routes. The hills are still accessible during this period, but it is essential that you plan ahead carefully and take extra care to minimise the chance of disturbing stalking.
In addition to the ‘throughout the year’ advice:
- Pay careful attention to the advice provided by land managers - follow any reasonable requests to avoid particular areas.
- Be prepared to consider and plan an alternative destination if there is stalking activity affecting a route to a summit.
- Stay flexible – have a back-up plan (with additional maps if necessary) so you can change your plan, location or route on the day.
Responsible behaviour by land managers
Be aware of where recreational use is likely, such as along paths, popular routes and ridge lines. Tell people where stalking is happening - for example, by using signs and information boards (in accordance with this Code), to give on-the-day information on stalking and alternative routes.
Heading for the Scottish Hills provides a simple way for land managers to tell people where red deer stalking is taking place. It is also important to tell people about periods when stalking will not happen or hill routes that are unaffected by stalking. The service can help reduce disturbance, as well as promoting responsible behaviour and understanding of deer management.
Further information for land managers
- How to join Heading for the Scottish Hills – information for land managers
- Deer Stalking: Signs guidance for land managers