When he was an 11-year-old boy, Prince Charles breathlessly wrote to his beloved "honorary grandfather," Earl Mountbatten, about his growing love of blood sports.
"I've been having a lot of fun shooting lately," he said. "Yesterday I got 23 pheasants and today I have ten and a partridge, a dick and a hare."
By then, it was something old. From the age of eight, he was allowed to accompany & # 39; arms & # 39; At shooting parties, walk with the beaters, listen to their conversations and learn the country roads.
Although shy and withdrawn in many other areas, young Charles was at home in the open air. He did not recoil at the sound of gunfire, nor at the agony of a fallen deer. As for Balmoral, where the life of the royal family revolves around arms, stalking and fishing, there was no other place he would prefer to be.
So when this week it emerged that the prince's grandson, Prince George, five years old, had witnessed his first shooting in the heather-covered hills above the Queen's Scottish summer retreat, it was the clearest signal of a passing real tradition. from one generation to another.
It was, after all, how George's father, Prince William, had been introduced to the sport. William was only four years old when Charles and Princess Diana took him to his first session in the muddy fields of the Queen & # 39; s Sandringham estate in Norfolk.
Prince Harry has been shooting from a young age, but questions are being asked about whether he has left the sport for his new wife.
While George was seen grabbing a toy rabbit while his mother was driving him to watch the action, young William joined in the fun at the time, shooting imaginary pheasants with a toy gun. Thirty-two years separated these real rites of passage, but the noise offstage was remarkably similar. In 1986, the animal rights lobby launched an outrage that the Prince was "indoctrinated in the killing".
For George, the protest came from social networks, with emojis full of tears about the child who "will grow up without empathy for the animals".
If this seems difficult for George, who is surely innocent, wait until he kills a deer. As a teenager, William was inundated with complaints from activists against the fields after he shot down his first deer with a single shot, prompting the late Labor MP Tony Banks to call it "disgusting" for a 14-year-old boy to turn himself in. & # 39; thirst for blood & # 39;
The incident, he said, showed how out of tune the Royal Family was with public opinion and was the worst kind of example to establish the country and a "setback to the nineteenth century."
But, even given that hyperbole, the shooting has polarized opinion in Britain for years.
Prince Philip, who in his youth received the nickname "happy trigger prince", has never escaped the fury after shooting a tiger on an official visit to India, although it was at a time when the great Shooting game was legal and an important part of fraternal diplomacy.
For royalty, of course, the filming is rooted in the understanding of the field and the delicate balance that is best protected by the active management of the land. That means sacrificing the game of deer and hunting. Without that, many of our fields would fall into decay and disuse. Over time, Prince George, a waiting king, will learn about that balance, since both his father and his grandfather did it when they were young.
When a Prince of Wales in a short suit toured the landscape around Balmoral, the rangers and ghillies discovered in the young Charles not only a willing student, but also a shared enthusiasm. It was also the only place where he spent time with his parents, riding with his mother and accompanying his father in his sessions.
At nine o'clock Charles fired his first capercaillie. A year later, Philip had taken him to his first duck hunting expedition to Hickling in the Norfolk Broads. It was already a promising shot, after having knocked down an elusive woodcock when, at the age of 13, he pocketed his first stag. It provoked an uproar, as William did 35 years later, with letters in the press attacking royalty.
When he was still a child, Charles became an expert in & # 39; bleeding & # 39; and cleaning the corpse of a deer, before dragging it to a pony that would take it from the hillside.
William got his rabbits pots in the property of Highgrove, before graduating in a shotgun of 20 guns to shoot the pheasants. To celebrate his admission to the University of St Andrews, Charles purchased a handmade sports rifle for his son. The .243 caliber weapon was designed for an expert shot. Left-hander William had already demonstrated his ability with his first stalking murder at Spittal at the western end of Loch Muick during a stay with the Queen Mother at his home in Birkhall.
At that time, it was reported that the young prince had been bloody & # 39; by the main stalker of the farm, a rite of passage in which the blood of the slaughter was stained on his face.
The episode occurred at the height of the bitter separation of their parents and it was inaccurately alleged that the shooting had caused a division between Diana and her son.
In fact, there was no such dispute. Diana, who once shot a deer in Balmoral, did not object to any of her sons firing. She used to refer to them as a joke as the "murderous Wales".
Only once did he express his concern and that was after he learned that they were shooting rabbits from a moving Land Rover at night, using the vehicle's lights to illuminate their shots. "That seemed a bit dangerous to me," he said.
Prince William in a shootout at the Sandringham estate. This week it was revealed that Prince George joined his first session
When Prince Charles stopped firing briefly in the mid-1980s, it was claimed that it was because Diana was against it.
The princess always maintained that her supposed hatred towards Balmoral was a myth. "I loved being out all day, I loved stalking," he said.
What I could not tolerate was the & # 39; ambience & # 39; with the Royal Family. "It exhausts me".
These days, it is said that that atmosphere is much lighter. However, it is not exempt from its defects. When William and Kate arrived with their three children for the last weekend's stay, that meant some real comings and goings. Prince Edward, who was staying with his wife Sophie and their two children, had to leave the castle and enter Garden Cottage.
This, in turn, meant that the Queen's private undersecretary, Tom Laing-Baker, who had been staying there, had to go to one of the lodges that are normally rented to members of the public. When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge left two days later, the process reversed, with Edward and Sophie returning to the castle.
"They did not complain at all, they are a very quiet couple," says one source.
With the appearance of George in a photo shoot, a real scoop was achieved, but there is another more eagerly anticipated: the arrival of the Duke and the Duchess of Sussex for the first Balmoral excursion of Meghan. Despite reports that they have accepted an invitation from the Queen, they have not yet visited her.
The courtiers wonder if this could be deliberate, in order to delay their arrival until after the stalking parties that the host of royalty has finished.
The Duke and the Duchess of Cambridge attend the Grouse outbreaks. However, it is not clear if Harry and Meghan will join them in the future.
This, says an older hand, could be a good way for Meghan, who thinks she does not approve of the sporting shot, "avoid the trap of shooting."
There is an added element of intrigue: Did Prince Harry stop firing because of Meghan? If true, this could be as significant as Charles's temporary parenthesis 30 years ago.
Today, despite criticism in the animal lobby, the shooting tradition of royalty has softened. According to one estimate, in 1996, Philip had fired a tiger, two crocodiles, countless wild boars and deer, rabbits, ducks and at least 30,000 pheasants.
However, even this is overshadowed by the wholesale massacre provoked by a previous generation of royals, who showed no difference in their attempt to destroy the game where and when they could.
In 1868, the future King Edward VII caused consternation when he chased a stag on horseback from Harrow in northwest London, through Wormwood Scrubs, to the freight yard at Paddington station, where he shot in front of the astonished guards and carriers of the railroad.
Although Paddington is not far from Prince George's house in Kensington Palace, it is probably better if the young king does not have such strange ideas in his head.
Prince Edward in a session. The royal family traditionally participates in annual shooting events