FIELD sports enthusiasts have been queuing up to pay higher prices to shoot deer on Scotland's estates despite the recession.
A new survey found demand in some areas has risen by more than 20%, with only one-third of visitors coming from Scotland.
According to Savills rural research, an arm of the land and estate agency, both demand and prices for deer stalking on Scottish estates have increased even in the gloomy economic climate.
The latest study, undertaken as the Scottish stag season closes and the hind season gets under way, examined this year's prices and demand for stalking on the 500,000 acres managed by Savills in Scotland, comparing this year's season with last.
The firm's Alastair Gemmell said: "Prices increased by an average of 5% this year, with those in more accessible locations, where demand is greater, rising by 21% since the general economic downturn began."
He said that while the sport still retained its exclusive edge, many owners had become more enterprising in a bid to attract a wider market and mitigate against the rising costs of running a traditional estate in the current climate.
"Over the past five years on Dalnacardoch Estate in Perthshire, prices have risen to £400 per stag. However, despite the rise in prices, the shooting lodge remained at full occupancy throughout this year's stag season, with bookings already made for 2013," he said.
While Scotland is renowned for its stag stalking, the more affordable hind stalking is increasing in popularity. The cost per day is around £200, half that of shooting a single stag, and hind stalking can be let on a daily rather than weekly basis, with less need for clients to book accommodation.
Mr Gemmell added: "Estates have been particularly successful at attracting stalkers from overseas, with around two-thirds coming from outside Scotland. They come for the experience of stalking in the open hills here – it's a very different landscape to the woodlands of Europe.
"Scottish stag stalking is very much seen as the holy grail of country sports throughout Europe."
According to Savills, although the vast majority of stalkers are still men, a growing number of women are becoming interested in the sport with females accounting for 10% of bookings last year.
Dr Michael Foxley, the former leader of the Highland Council and lifelong land reform campaigner, said "This is hardly surprising. The rich are still rich, and some are getting even richer. I suspect a significant amount of this increased demand is coming from those still involved in the financial sector in London or further east.
"There are still people there enjoying obscene financial bonuses. However, that said it is good news for local employment of stalkers and gamekeepers."