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Stalking red deer during the rut


Normally the four red deer forests that I explore just have herds of hinds (females). Unlike roe deer, red deer females group together for protection and to raise the calves. But at the end of September red deer stags start to come down into these woods from the moors to the north for the rut. The rut is when the stags round up the hinds to have lots of sex with them, and they will fight other stags to protect their groups of females which is called their harem. It's one of the weirdest ways to have babies but it seems to work for them.

BBC Autumnwatch has been on this week and they have been following the red deer rut on the isle of Rum (which is near Skye where I was last month). Scientists like the red deer there because the red deer are a closed population that can't go anyway, and so are good to study. Autumnwatch filmed some amazing scenes and my story is good but not quite as interesting as theirs.

I first went to stalk the red deer in Suicides Graves wood in the middle of September. Suicides Graves wood is the best wood to stalk deer because it has a few open clearings where the deer like to come. The very first red deer I saw were here when I was seven. Mum, Dad and I came at dusk and hid in the woods at the right of the picture. After about twenty minutes of waiting, the red deer hinds came out. Since then I've learned that you can see red deer here during the day as well.

This is me at the east end of the clearing. I crept out lying flat and straight away I saw.....

....a red deer hind at the left of the clearing. She watched me for a few seconds then decided to run back into the woods.

Dad and I went further into the clearing. There were lots of signs that red deer had been here, like this adult red deer poo that was less than a day old...

...and these adult slots (red deer footprints)....

...and even this this tiny footprint from one of this year's red deer calves.

Further west down the clearing I thought I saw some red deer.

You can just about see them in this photo above. We moved down the bank on the right behind a fallen tree. Looking through the trees I could see at least two:

When you have a group of deer there is usually one deer that particularly looks out for danger. It's always an older hind. In this group is was this one:

It looks like she has spotted us but she can't actually see us. Red deer often stop and stare around them. By this time I could see at least three:

We stayed their a while watching them through binoculars, hidden behind the tree roots.

Finally we could see that there were four grazing close together:

This is me telling dad that there were four using hand signals so as not to be noisy and scare the deer.

On this one you can see it has a dorsal stripe, which is a black stripe from the top of the head down the spine. In this wood there are quite a few hinds like this. I'm not sure what it means but it might mean they are a sika-red deer cross. The skulls are the exact same size for red deer though (sika are smaller than red deer).

The four hinds moved further up the clearing but I knew it was difficult to track them on the next bit. So we took a short cut down a deer path to the right of the clearing which we call Woodcock Alley (I found a woodcock skull here once).

After a quarter mile we turned off to the left, on a short path which goes back onto one side of the valley. I stayed back inside the wood so I was well hidden but I couldn't see the hinds. We had lost them. We heard lots and lots of stags roaring during the rest of the walk but didn't see any of them.

On the opposite side of the valley is a clearing called Suicides Graves where you sometimes see deer. There is a well-hidden tower where stalkers shoot the deer here. When people committed suicide in the 13th and 14th century they were buried here because the church wouldn't allow them.

While there were no deer here that day, dad was back by himself stalking a month later, and he saw a group of eight. First of all he thought it was a harem with a dominant stag. Then he saw that this stag only had spiker (single point) antlers, so it was probably still young, probably two or three, and with the hind herd. It was very big though.

This was the female in charge of the group with her four-month old calf. The stag wasn't bothered by the sound of dad's camera shutter, but she heard it and when she heard it she bolted, even though she couldn't see dad.

When she bolted the rest of the group followed. You can see how big and strong that spiker stag was compared to another spiker beside him.

After another two weeks, Dad decided to have one last look for stags while I was at school on Monday.  He walked up to the moor and saw this place where stags cover themselves in mud to get rid of midges.

Then, about a quarter of a mile away, he saw this. It was definitely a mature stag !

This is how far away it was when he saw it. This is what it looked like to the naked eye.

When he got about 200 yards away he could see the stag clearly. It was had twelve points on its antlers. He guessed it was maybe eight or nine years old. It looked tired and exhausted.

There was a younger stag with spiker (single point) antlers nearby, but the stag didn't see him as a threat:

Dad got as close as he dared. Stalking on moors is difficult and if just one of the deer had seen him they would have all ran into the woods. By this time the group were all lying down after grazing.

To show you how well camouflaged they were, this is something clever. See how many deer you can spot in the picture below. Use the bar to scroll left to right. Then put your mouse over the picture to see where they actually were:

Use the bar at the bottom to scroll across the picture. 
Move the pointer over the picture to show where the deer are.

How many did you count ? There are 13 in the picture but some are very difficult to see. Dad thought there were 14 but he might have made a mistake.

It was a real shame that I didn't get to see any of the stags during the rut this year, but stalking deer is very hard. I was pleased dad saw them though and I think the picture are great but I would have preferred to have been there !

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Jack N said...

Wow that is a lot of deer!I went to see the red deer rut with my wildlife watch at a bit of moorland called Curbar Edge.We saw plenty of hinds, some spikers and some seriously spectacular stags!It was my first ever rut and we saw a little action so I was so excited.Hoping to go stalking the fallow herd at Clough Wood soon as it is their rutting season currentlyas well!

Psydrache said...

Your dad took wonderful photos!
I love stags but they are so shy, argh! But to hear them roaring is very impressing, too.

Jake said...

I think I forgot to mention the roaring. It's impressive and scary.

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