October is the most exciting time of year to watch our deer as they engage in fierce mating battles. The three largest species of deer (red, fallow and sika) all rut in the autumn and are easy to watch in parks and in the wild.
For months leading up to October, sexually mature red deer stags have been preparing for the most important contest of their lives – access to a harem of fertile females. The fight starts vocally, and if this is not enough to ward off a competitor, rivals parallel-walk before locking antlers. Welcome to the red deer rut.
Rut activity peaks during the three hours after dawn and before dusk, so arrive early and be prepared to stay late. Approach downwind, use vegetation as cover, tread softly and avoid sudden movements. And always keep your distance – even in enclosed parks, these are large wild animals. As well as disturbing them and preventing them from exhibiting their natural predators, deer can be unpredictable and thus can pose a danger to humans.
The isle’s red deer number some 2,000, so you have a sound chance of a memorable encounter. Open moorland north of the String Road offers frequent sightings, and Lochranza Golf Course is good for close views.
A former Royal Forest, Exmoor National Park is known for its red deer, which have existed there since pre-historic times. There are currently about 3,000 red deer. Also look out for Exmoor ponies, a native British pony.
Margam’s three species of deer roam the two square kilometres. Originally fallow deer, red deer were introduced alongside the non-native Père David deer. The latter is an endangered species native to China and are part of a joint breeding programme with ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. The Margam herd currently consists of 300 fallow, 64 red and 34 Père David deer.
Though unequivocally less wild than the options above, at a deer park such as Richmond or Bushy Parks it is easy to photograph stags at close range among bracken-strewn woodland scenery. There are 630 deer in Richmond, including both red and fallow deer.
A lowland raised peatbog that was turned into an experimental forestry plantation and is now being slowly restored to its natural state by Cumbria Wildlife Trust. Red deer stags rut out in the middle of the moss around mid-October.
The mating strategy of fallow deer is very variable, depending on habitat, time of rut and deer density.
Fallow deer may form harems with many does. Or there may be several bucks with a few does (as in a lek). Individual bucks may wait for does on a rutting stand under large (often oak) trees or pursue oestrous does.
Muntjac mate throughout the year and give birth seven months later.
Unlike other deer, the bucks are fertile when growing new antlers.
Adult bucks pursue oestrous does. They are often seen with their noses down, following a doe’s scent trail.
When bucks fight, they click their cheek teeth, scrape the ground, parallel walk, then turn and use their long pedicles (bony stalks around the antler base) and antlers to shove and twist their opponents, trying to throw them off-balance.
Their canine tusks are then used to slash the opponent’s neck, face and ears. The loser may also be slashed on his rump as he retreats.