In Season 2, Episode 5, of Netflix’s hit series, “The Crown,” a young Queen Elizabeth II walks the hills of her famous Balmoral Estate in search of Scottish red deer. Though accompanied by a guide, the queen is the first to spot the herd and leads the way as they stalk across the countryside.
Honed in on a single stag, she crawls through the grass and dirt to get in a good shooting position, takes the rifle, and lands a mortal shot on the trotting (trotting!) stag. “Good shot, ma’am,” the guide congratulates.
“The Crown” is a fictional series about Queen Elizabeth’s life, but this scene got me wondering: Is England’s longest reigning monarch actually a serious hunter?
The queen loves her yearly retreats to Balmoral Castle, and Season 4 of “The Crown” spends several episodes at the country estate. Deer stalking is one of the queen’s favorite pastimes, and the late Princess Diana supposedly ingratiated herself to the royal family on a hunting trip with Prince Philip.
The queen ain’t no Janis Putelis, but it turns out that England’s head of state has some serious hunting chops.
Queen Elizabeth II went on her first deer-stalking expedition at the age of 19. She brought down the only stag of the day, according to a 2002 article in the Vancouver Sun. She reportedly helped porters carry the dead animal down a hillside.
She was described by her sister’s famous suitor, Group Captain Peter Townsend, as “a tireless walker and an excellent shot,” according to the same article.
Several years later, when the queen was crowned in 1952, the United Kingdom’s leading country sports magazine, “Shooting Times,” ran a cover story featuring the new queen as “a sportswoman and champion of the countryside.”
According to the article, “King George V and King George VI were both famous shots, and sportsmen will rejoice that Queen Elizabeth has inherited a love of the fieldsports which are so vital a part of country life.” The queen “joined the guns” at Balmoral, meaning she participated in bird hunting at the estate, and she also developed a real love for angling.
Those loves have continued to this day. According to a 2020 article in People Magazine, the royal family still participates regularly in a grouse hunt at Balmoral, and the queen has maintained the estate’s reputation for excellent bird hunting.
“The estate lends itself to shooting. It’s a paradise for it,” Ken Wharfe, a former royal bodyguard, told the magazine.
“Everything is in place for it and there is privacy and security,” Wharfe said, adding that the flatlands of Norfolk provide the perfect environment for shooting on still, crisp winter days. “It is one of the great shooting estates with the best managers and gamekeepers.”
While it’s unlikely the 94-year-old queen still shoulders a scattergun, she was once deeply invested in the art of bird hunting. Her birddog kennels at Sandringham are some of the best in the world and she is an acknowledged master of the craft of dog breeding, according to a 2012 article in the Western Daily Press.
While the queen has never been photographed with a shotgun, “it is hard to imagine, given her close involvement with the sport and the fact that her children and grandchildren and many of their spouses shoot, that she has not carried a gun on occasions,” the Western Daily Press points out.
In 2000, the queen was caught on camera wringing the neck of a wounded pheasant that had been retrieved by one of her dogs. “It was obviously not the first time she had wrung the neck of a pheasant,” an observer told the Sunday Mirror.
Though this kind of mercy killing is standard practice among bird hunters, the Mirror dubbed her “The Killer Queen” and animal rights groups went nuts.
“Some people will say that she put the bird out of its misery—but who put the bird in misery in the first place?” asked Penny Little of Protect Our Wild Animals. “I don’t think the Queen should be a part of something which most people find absolutely disgusting.”
The queen was not hunting pheasants that day, and the famously private monarch has never disclosed the full extent of her hunting experience. The duties of state don’t allow for extended hunting trips, of course, and from what we can tell, she enjoys her horses and her dogs more than hunting deer or grouse. She’s also never been an outspoken defender of hunting rights, though she rarely gets involved in any type of policy debate.
But that doesn’t mean she’s kept totally silent. The day after she was dubbed “The Killer Queen” for putting a pheasant out of its misery, she showed up at church wearing a hat decked out in pheasant feathers.
“The queen would never enter into a public debate about whether she should be involved in country sports, but by displaying the feathers she has made her feelings plain without saying anything,” a royal aide said at the time.
The queen might not be a badass hunter, per se, but that sounds pretty badass to us.