The red deer is Britain’s largest mammal. Fully grown stags can weight up to 190kg – by comparison the average adult male in England weighs 79kg. The antlers of the stag are distinctive and the branches grow as the stag becomes older.
The species has been hunted by man for 11,000 years and was used by Mesolithic man for food, clothing and tools. As agriculture developed red deer retreated to the Scottish Highlands, the south-west of England and other specific areas. Although reds prefer woodland and forests they can adapt to open moorland and hills. They eat grasses and small shrubs such as heather but will eat bark and tree shoots when food is limited.
The lifespan of a red deer can be up to 18 years. Only stags over five years old tend to mate. Woodland hinds calf after eight months gestation from mid-May to July, but hill hinds may only calf every two to three years.
The Romans brought the elegant fallow deer to Britain from the Western Mediterranean to ornament their deer parks. When the Romans left these deer became extinct. Then in the 11th century fallow deer were reintroduced again to be kept as exotic herds. Little by little the population increased and aristocrats prized the venison. Over the next few centuries deer parks became unfashionable and the fallow deer escaped, forming the population of today’s free herds.
Fallow are abundant and increasing in number through England and Wales, although their presence is limited in Scotland. Sexes mix in large herds year along, preferring agricultural environments. The species is active day and night but activities peak at dawn and dusk. The males, known as bucks, weight from 46 to 93kg, the females (does) 35-56kg. When alarmed the does and young give short barks.
The roe deer is an adaptable species and while they may prefer small, mixed woodlands, they are perfectly at home in larger coniferous forests. Spring is the prime season for roebuck, the best and largest of which will normally be in hard antler by the opening of the buck season on April 1.
The south of England, and especially the counties of Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset have long been associated with high quality roe stalking. After the species died out in southern England in the Middle Ages, roe were re-established at Milton Abbas in Dorset in the early 1800s and have spread out from there to colonise the whole of the south and south-west of England. A further introduction was made near Thetford in 1884, which became the foundation of the east of England’s roe population. I
Most stalking estates take their prime bucks in April, when the woodland understorey is still sufficiently open to see through, and the bucks are busy establishing or re-establishing their territories.
Alternatively, good bucks can be taken during the rut in late July, while there is also excellent sport to be had in winter during the all-important doe cull.