There has been the most tremendous uproar in the press about the death of the imaginatively styled Exmoor Emperor. Newspaper columnists and cultural observers appear to be having a field day, resurrecting old scores against country sportsmen and stirring up a happily boiling pot of contention.
For some reason, the press appointed an “Exmoor deer management expert” by the name of Peter Donnelly to act as chief witness for the prosecution. True to form, he railed and screamed about the senselessness of killing the Emperor, arguing that during the rut, “the poor things should be left alone”. In my experience, the rut is the best time to stalk stags. I shot my first beast five years ago on the same day as the Emperor was killed and felt no moral qualms about it. Deer management is deer management, and although my stag was a modest affair, it followed in my mind that he needed to be pruned away from the herd for the benefit of all. I paid money for the privilege of shooting him, which in turn would have been passed from the estate and on to the stalker so that his management work could continue.
The shot that killed the Emperor was legal, taken by a licensed stalker on private land. It was a matter of course for hundreds of stalkers up and down the country, rendered remarkable only because of the size of the animal. There are some biological complications as to whether or not he should have been shot before he had mated this season, but people seem to forget that his genes haven’t improved with age. Just because he looks his best this year doesn’t mean that his calves from this year will be his strongest yet. His calves from last year’s rut are just as likely to take after their father, and the notion that the stalker destroyed something on the cusp of greatness is nonsense. The individual was as physically good as he was ever going to be, but his genes have been the same since the day he was born. He had had ten or twelve years to spread his strong genetic material around the herd, and in terms of natural timescales, that is more than enough.
In a world of natural disaster, financial collapse and global terrorism, perhaps it doesn’t warrant front page attention.