Alex Macdonald at work on the Achnacarry estate
Alex Macdonald at work on the Achnacarry estate

TV programme will bring deer stalking to the nation

For many people across Britain, a life on the Scottish hills as a deerstalker is as alien to them as pearlfishing in India or pony trekking in the Andes.

This traditional Scottish was of life will come to the forefront this Sunday evening, when the BBC airs The Deer Stalker.

For 40 years, Alex MacDonald has stalked the hills and glens above Fort William, as did his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him.

In this intimate portrait of a unique way of life, this documentary follows Alex through the ferocity of one of Scotland’s worst winters to the high heat of summer, as he manages the 3000 red deer that populate the Achnacarry estate.

Speaking to Scottish Field this week, Alex said: ‘When I was first approached to be involved, I didn’t jump at it. I’m not one for the limelight, really, but when I thought about it, I decided to do it. I’m glad I did.

‘It will be quite an eye-opener to a wide audience. Some people might know a wee bit about it, but there’s a lot more than they’d think, and this gives them a chance to see what is involved over the course of a year, so they can see where the job is done. It’s a beautiful office!

‘I hope we’ve managed to get that across on the programme, and to show the respect we have for the animals. When we have to bring the numbers down with the annual cull, it’s done humanely.

‘You get a lot of people that don’t really understand about the job. They think it is just a case of getting out and killing… It is not, it is culling.”

The programme was recorded over the last year, and includes the horrendous weather at the start of the year.

Alex Macdonald at work on the Achnacarry estate (Photo: BBC)

Alex said: ‘It goes from one extreme to the other, with the end of the season in February, which was very severe. But the deer are tough animals – they are amazing.

‘When the Beast from the East arrived, we missed the really bad stuff, but we had had bad weather before that. It was dry here during that spell, but extremely cold. Deer can’t stand continual rain, which can lead to a high mortality. We were lucky that during the Beast, it was dry for us. With deer, if they have dry back, they can withstand a lot.’

Alex’s family have over a century of experience of working in the industry, and he hopes to hand his expertise onto a fifth generation – his 15-year-old son Cameron.

Alex explained: ‘There’s been a line all the way back to my great-grandfather in the 1880s, so this estate is something special to me.

‘Cameron says he’s got other plans, but you do find with stalkers’ sons, they will go away and do something else, before they come back when they’re still quite young, train up, and then carry on. He’s very interested in the job and he helps a lot.’

Alex believes that the documentary will showcase the good work that goes on on the Scottish hills, and added: ‘I hope people will see in an educational way, and get to understand the job and why it’s done.

‘Hopefully, people will come away from it with a different view, if they had any doubts before, as there’s a lot of work involved in running a deer forest throughout the year.’

Part of BBC One’s Our Lives series, The Deer Stalker has been produced by Tern TV, and will be show on Sunday, 26 August, on BBC One from 6.05-6.35pm.