Deer hunter Kate Middleton under fire for going shooting with Royals
(dailymail.co.uk) - Kate Middleton last night found herself at the centre of a public row over her decision to go deerstalking with the Royal Family.
Prince William's girlfriend - now hotly tipped again as a future royal bride - chose to join a shooting party in Scotland at the weekend, much to the anger of anti-blood sports campaigners.
"It is shocking and abhorrent that she is engaging in blood sports.
"Kate is obviously trying to endear herself to the Royal Family and her decision will do her no favours whatsoever," said a spokesman for campaign group People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
It is not clear whether the 25-year-old - dressed in camouflage gear but, bizarrely, still wearing her favourite dangly pearl earrings - bagged her first 'kill'.
But she was photographed practising with a formidable bolt-action hunting rifle watched by Prince Charles and two ghillies before heading off into Highlands.
Her presence at Balmoral alongside Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall - neither of whom joined the hunt - is being seen as the clearest sign yet that, following her brief split from William earlier this year, Miss Middleton is firmly back in the royal fold.
Charles frequently took Princess Diana up to Scotland in the early days of their courtship, although in reality she hated countryside pursuits.
Almost 27 years ago she was accused of cruelly wounding a stag while stalking with the prince shortly before their marriage and although she was 'blooded' by ghillies - a ceremony which involves a hunter's forehead being smeared with the blood of their first kill - she vowed never to take part again.
News of Miss Middleton's decision to join the shooting party was revealed in the Mail On Sunday.
Eyewitnesses said Miss Middleton showed a remarkable level of confidence as she chatted enthusiastically with the future king while he showed her the ropes.
As she lay prone in the heather with her rifle, which had been fitted with telescopic sights and a silencer to allow her to shoot a stag a mile off, she appeared completely at ease as Charles's ghillies talked her through the firing procedure.
After making sure of her target - in this case a metal practice one in the shape of a deer - she pulled the trigger confidently, birds scattering in fright.
As she fired, one of the prince's ghillies scanned the target with his binoculars to see where the bullet had hit.
He then adjusted the sight of her rifle again slightly before she headed off in pursuit of William, who had already left with a small party of friends at first light.
William is a particularly keen huntsman who inherited his lover of deer stalking from his grand-father, Prince Philip.
Later in the afternoon, Kate was seen driving one of Charles's own Land Rovers across the hills back to Birkhall, the prince's home on the estate.
William's party spend the rest of the day watching the English football team's Euro 2008 qualifier followed by the national side's dramatic rugby World Cup semi-final victory.
Intriguingly, friends of Kate pointed out yesterday that she has never been a particularly enthusiastic supporter of blood sports.
Indeed, despite being pictured alongside William, also 25, during several pheasant shoots at Sandringham over the past few years, she has never once been seen with a gun in her hand.
Sources close to the couple claimed yesterday that Miss Middleton's decision to join her boyfriend stalking was part of a 'concerted campaign' to prove to William that she 'has what it takes' to be his wife.
"Kate is determined to do whatever it takes to convince William that she has the right pedigree.
"She is a solidly middle-class girl but has suddenly developed a remarkable interest in the hunting, shooting and fishing lifestyle," they said.
"Actually, word is that William and Kate had a row recently over the way in which he continues to confide in two of his closest girlfriends about matters of the heart.
"Apparently he had always planned to go up to Balmoral for the end of the stalking season but he decided to take Kate with him in an effort to make it up to her. "Kate has now started telling people to expect an engagement by Christmas, although no-one really thinks that it will come to that so soon. William still wants to wait another year or so.
"That said , he does want to get married before his father accedes to the throne as he would like to have a family of his own before he has to take on the responsibility of being Prince of Wales."
Last night a spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports lambasted Miss Middleton for taking part in the shoot.
"Killing deer for a sport is a horrible pastime. It's very sad that she has chosen to participate in this cruel sport.
"It's hardly a setting a good role model for young women, killing animals and I can't see that this will do her reputation any good whatsoever," he said.
Yvonne Taylor of PETA added: "Kate is obviously trying to endear herself to the Royal Family, which is absolutely appalling.
"It wasn't so long ago when she was pictured wearing a fur hat which caused a public outcry and now she is endorsing blood sports.
"The vast majority of the public will be disgusted by these images.
"Some have compared Kate to Diana, but Diana never wore fur and she also turned against blood sports."
According to the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, deer can cause considerable damage to farm and timber crops if their numbers exceed the available food supply in their woodland or hill habitat.
To reduce such damage and to ensure that the population remains balanced and healthy, deer stalkers use rifles to cull individual animals.
Those likely to be removed, they say, are the old and weak deer as well as some younger females to reduce the number of offspring produced.
Anti blood sports campaigners insist, however, that the chances of a hunter - especially an inexperienced one - failing to kill an animal instantly, leaving it in enormous distress and pain, is high.