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Revealed: Harry ‘feared he would die’ as head was shoved inside dead deer in gruesome Balmoral initiation

A collage of Prince Harry as a teenager alongside a red deer.
Prince Harry has opened up about how a 'baptismal' encounter with a dead deer left him fearing for his life. Image: Roddie Reid/DCT Media

Prince Harry has revealed how he feared he could die as he went limp while his head was shoved into the still-warm carcass of a dead deer.

The incident on the Balmoral Estate is recounted in the royal’s new memoir Spare.

Harry paints an idyllic picture of life at the family’s rural Aberdeenshire retreat.

He describes the scene of some precious childhood summers as “simply paradise” in the opening chapters of the hotly-anticipated autobiography.

But his memories aren’t all rosy.

Fishing and shooting have been a large part of life there for generations, and Harry relives his own indoctrination into that way of life.

Harry’s first ‘blooding’ came after killing rabbit

It began with him shooting a rabbit.

His impressed nanny, Tiggy Legge-Burke, beamed: “Well done, darling!”

She then “dipped” a long finger into the rabbit’s body before “scooping out a dollop of blood and tenderly smearing it” on the young prince’s cheeks and nose.

It’s a tradition known as “blooding”, believed to date back to the 16th century.

The custom is intended as a “rite of passage” after a first kill, and a mark of respect to the slain animal.

Prince Harry with a cap on staring into the distance.
Prince Harry takes a look back on his teenage years in the new book Spare.

Harry pulls the trigger as red deer munches grass

After that, came Harry’s “true stalker initiation”…

Around the age of 15, he was taken out to hunt red deer.

Assisted by a “proper old school” guide named Sandy, Harry crept through the Balmoral heather until they came across their prey.

A red deer stag stands in the Scottish Highlands - much like the one Prince Harry would have shot dead.
A red deer stag in the Scotland Highlands Image: Natalia Yatskevich/Shutterstock

Looking back more than 20 years later, he writes: “I took slow aim, squeezed the trigger.

“One sharp, thunderous crack.

“Then, silence.”

Prince Harry shocked as he knelt next to dead deer

It was, he says, a “good shot” with the deer suffering little before dying.

Sandy then “bled it from the neck” and slit open the deer’s stomach.

At that point, he beckoned for Harry to kneel beside him.

Sandy then “placed a hand gently” around the prince’s neck – which the teenager thought was meant as an “atta boy” gesture.

This is when he was given a more brutal taste of blooding.

Harry explained: “Instead, he pushed my head inside the carcass.”

Prince Harry ‘went limp’ as face was submerged in dead deer guts

Harry tells his readers how he “tried to pull away” before being out-muscled by the “insane strength” of his older companion – who pushed him deeper into the deer’s innards.

Harry felt he was about to throw up as he was overwhelmed with an “infernal stench”.

Prince Harry pictured with his father as a teenager, around the age he would have been when the dead deer incident would have taken place.
Prince Harry was just a teenager when the incident with the dead deer took place. Image: PA Photos

After spending “a minute” with his head inside the deer’s dead body, Harry says his nose and mouth “were full of blood and guts”.

He couldn’t breathe and, as he went limp, he thought “so this is death”.

Sandy then pulled him out, and stopped him from wiping away the foul-smelling red goo that was dripping from his face.

As they waited for horses to arrive to cart away the carcass, they disembowelled the stag and cast aside organs for birds of prey to eat.

Prince Harry says dead deer experience was ‘baptismal’

Harry concludes the anecdote by revealing that “as the blood dried and his stomach settled”, he “felt swelling pride”.

The prince was relieved that he managed to shoot the stag “clean through the heart”, and considered the importance of culling to ensure the survival of the species.

He adds: “Finally, I’d been good to the community.

“A big stag in the larder meant plenty of good meat for those living around Balmoral.

“This ‘blood facial’ was, to me, baptismal.”

In the end, he thanked Sandy for the experience.

Why did Balmoral matter so much to the Queen? Everything you need to know about the Deeside castle fit for royalty