Red, roe and sika deer conjure up all sorts of images such Landseer’s famous painting of a red deer stag to the penetrating whistle of a sika stag. Venison is now a major product of the Highlands as after a number of successful publicity campaigns there is probably more venison being eaten in the Scotland than ever before. Unfortunately, the market has still not developed the right strategy as much of the venison is still imported, mainly from New Zealand. It is still a fact that many of the large and small retail outlets in the Highlands and even in Inverness are still bringing in vast quantities of New Zealand red deer venison. It is a source of mystery as to how such large quantities can be imported from so far afield and still be competitive, pricewise, with locally sourced venison.
However, apart from venison there are other outlets from deer in a market that has, and is, changing all the time. One good example of the changes are two of the teeth of, mainly, red deer stags. These are the tusks, sometimes called tush, that are the two canine teeth. These were, at one time, greatly prized to make into various items such as tie tacks, cufflinks, brooches and the like. I well remember selling pairs of these back in the early 1970s to the owner of a hotel in Spinningdale, near Bonar Bridge. They were for export to the continent, mainly Germany, and I received up to £16 for a good pair. Then the market was suddenly flooded with them and the lucrative sale went almost overnight. The new imports came from – yes, New Zealand.
Another saleable product from deer was the offal that now is largely ignored by people. Tripe, a stomach lining, was very popular, and the hearts and kidneys had a good market for a long time. Then there was always the skins although their curing was a long and involved process. Many a cured skin found their ways as carpets on floors or hung on the walls as decoration. There was even a market, mainly for medicinal purposes, of the velvet growth around antlers as they are growing in their annual cycle. At one time, until it was made illegal in this country, this was a very lucrative market indeed and many old recipe books included this soft growth on the outer part of antlers in their menus. There were even recipes for sliced antler under velvet. The photograph is of a red deer stag, its antlers in velvet, and a hind.
The other mainstay of the market and still a viable one are the antlers. Many of the old houses in the Highlands had their almost obligatory head and antlers hung on their walls. Their size and the number of points was often a reflection of the fact that some stags had been brought in from elsewhere. Several of the famous deer parks down south had red deer with large sets of antlers some with very many points. These were the result of adequate feed compared with the deer on then open hills. One of the most famous was the Warnham Deer Park in England and many of their stags found their way north. Transport by boats would take red deer to many islands off the west coast such as the Isle of Rum. Antlers were also used for stands as coat hangers and even feet were used as the tops of walking sticks.