Why the Royal Family’s Balmoral Castle Hunting Grounds Are Shrinking

The Royal Family’s love of hunting dates back centuries. William the Conqueror established a royal hunting preserve known as the New Forest around 1079, starting off a long line of royal hunters. King George V once killed 1,000 pheasants in one day on a hunt in 1913, and Queen Elizabeth’s father, George VI, spent his final day hunting hares at Sandringham. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, who was nicknamed the “trigger-happy prince,” became embroiled in controversy when they went on a tiger hunt in India in 1961—the same year he became the president of the World Wildlife Fund.

Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (right) attends the North of Scotland Gundog Association retriever trials at Balmoral in 1973.

Photo: Cowper/Central Press/Getty Images

Today, the family hunts grouse at Balmoral in August and spends each Boxing Day hunting game birds at Sandringham. The royals have faced increasing criticism for the practice, particularly given the King’s passion for conservation and the environment. But the royals show no sign of giving up shooting; in fact, the Prince and Princess of Wales have already introduced the next generation to the tradition, bringing Prince George to watch his first shoot at the age of five—a move that garnered backlash for William and Catherine. While Prince Harry was brought up shooting along with his brother (Princess Diana nicknamed them “her killer whales”), he last took part in the family’s annual Boxing Day Shoot in 2018. In 2020 Dame Jane Goodall told the Radio News that she believed the Duke of Sussex would give up hunting. “I think Harry will stop because Meghan doesn’t like hunting, so I suspect that is over for him,” she said.

While they may no longer have access to Abergeldie Estate, as the U.K.’s largest landowners, the Royal Family still has plenty of hunting ground in Scotland, including at the 50,000-acre Balmoral Estate and a private grouse moor at Corgarff.

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