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How to find deer part 1: fences, footprints and poo


I am really lucky where I live because the forests are full of deer, and it's easy to find lots of deer bones. The woods to the east of my village and the huge moor to the south are full of roe deer, and the huge forest to the north is full of red deer. (Here's something I wrote before which tells you the difference between roe and red deer). 

When I am exploring a new wood, and I don't know whether deer live there, I know to look for lots of clues as to whether there are going to be deer around. Often you can walk through woods and not see a single deer, but there are always lots of clues they leave behind. There are so many types of clues I am going to write about it over two weeks.

Here are some of the things I look for:

  • Deer fences

Deer fences are like a fence which is twice the height of a normal fence. Most fences are to keep deer away from areas, like roads or new forest plantations, because the deer would eat the young trees and kill them. The fence above is the fence between Suicides Graves wood and Dougal's Cairn wood, and the wooden sticks in the top part are to warn deer so they see the fence and don't get stuck in it. Not all deer fences have this.

This is a roe deer next to a deer fence around a forest plantation. If you find a deer fence it means there must be deer around ! There are usually deer paths right round the edge of the fence, and it can be a good place to look for shed antlers, because when the antlers start to fall off, deer sometimes use the fences to knock them off.

Adult deer can always jump over normal fences, like this red deer hind:

Sometimes you can find spots where there fur is caught in the wire, like in this next picture. Deer like to jump over the same place, so you can sometimes see where they land with their front hooves.

This red deer hind wasn't so lucky. It was eight months old, and died when it's back leg got caught in the fence in February. It must have been a horrible way to die.

  • Deer poo

If there are deer then there is always deer poo. Deer poo can tell you a lot, like how long ago the deer was here, what type of deer it was, and it can even help you guess how many deer live there.

Deer poo is usually lots of small pellets, that look like a black olive. Adult red deer poo is about the size of an olive, and roe deer poo is smaller. Deer poo looks a lot like sheep poo, because they are from the same family of animals (Artiodactyla) and they both eat grass and plants.

Deer poo can vary a bit, though. Here is more red deer poo where the pellets are bigger (the foot is my dads for scale):

And sometimes the pellets are all squashed together in one poo like this:

  • Deer footprints ('slots')

If there is mud you should look for deer footprints. In woods deer like to use the same tracks all the time so you can often find lots of deer footprints together. Deer footprints are a lot like those of sheep and even cows because they have two main toes with hooves on, and two smaller toes at the back that don't normally touch the ground. (I wrote about other animal tracks last winter, which is a good time to spot footprints.)

Here is what a deer foot looks like:

When deer are running the toes spread apart. This deer was running in the same direction as dad's foot is pointing.

A bit further on you could see it was running so hard that its two smaller toes which are normally off the ground had dug in.

This next footprint looks unusual but it is from a roe deer too. The roe deer was running from the right of the picture to the left, and the two marks at the front were made by the hooves on a front leg. The two behind were made were made by the back leg on the same side. In young deer the bottom of the hoof isn't hard yet, so sometimes just the hard edges leave a mark:

It seems strange but it's because of the funny way roe deer run with their front and back legs crossing over. It's hard to see when you watch them but to easy to see in a photograph:

If you can find any of these three things then there are deer near by. Next week I am going to write about other signs that show you whether deer are nearby ! UPDATE: it's here !

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Glendathompson1 said...

Thank you for your tips Jake, i have been trying to take photos of roe deer for some time now, I just manage to get some from such a huge distance. Tommorrow I am of to the woods again, with your tips in mind so I hope to get lucky. thanks again

Jake said...

Good luck ! Hope it helped !

Glendathompson1 said...

It sure did, I managed to get quite close to one, and got some great photos, I have got to meet quite a few walkers at this woodland centre over the past several months, whom i am constantly asking "have you seen any deer today?", I am sure they will be happy not to be asked again. Now I am going to asda to get myself a 8x10 done. Thank you once again, I have enjoyed reading your site, take care Jake

Jake said...

Brill ! Roe deer are lovely to watch.

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